Donor Acquisition Explained

Donor Acquisition.

Conventional Nonprofit Donor Acquisition “Wisdom”

Work to “build awareness” for your organization.

Always be sharing success stories.

Tell people how effective your organization is.

People will flock to your organization.

You’ll raise lots of money.

How It Actually Works

Work to create a great fundraising offer .

Identify groups of people who are likely to become donors.

Put your offer in front of those people.

Small (but knowable) percentages of those people will become donors.

Your organization will lose money on the front end. But if you get good at it, you’ll raise a LOT of money over time.

Things an Old Fundraiser Knows

Things an Old Fundraiser Knows

This year I completed my 25th year-end fundraising campaign.

It made me think about the lessons I’ve learned over the years communicating to donors en masse. Not the ‘one major donor who likes this’ or ‘the foundation that likes that,’ but when nonprofits are communicating to everyone on their file.

So in hopes that this is helpful, here are a handful of big-picture things that this Fundraiser has come to realize are enduring truths…

It’s harder than ever to get and keep attention

Get great at getting your donor’s attention. And keeping it. This means more drama and less process. More National Enquirer and less National Geographic. This means louder, bolder, redder, and not that fricking shade of light blue that no older donor can see or read.

Mostly it means not assuming that your donor is going to read anything you send them, let alone the whole thing.

You have to earn their attention, my friend.

The way your organization does its work is rarely important

And I mean rarely.

Most organizations, most of the time, should be talking about the outcomes their work creates. They should not be talking about how the organization creates those outcomes.

So if you find yourself talking about your process, the names of your programs, the features of your programs … rethink what you’re talking to donors about.

The best-performing fundraising is usually about something the donor cares about, at the level at which they understand it, and about what their gift will do about it.

This is a hard truth. It saddens me to say that most small nonprofits never embrace this, and they stay small because of it.

Most small nonprofits have ‘untapped giving’ of 15% to 25% of their total revenue

This is based on applying best practices to a LOT of smaller nonprofits. They simply have a lot of donors who would like to give more money if they are Asked well and then cultivated correctly.

It’s a thrill to get to work with those organizations because the increase is real and immediate.

Most of the barriers to raising more money are self-imposed

The things that are holding back small- to medium-sized nonprofits are almost always fear-based barriers:

  • “We can’t talk to our donors more, we’ll wear them out”
  • “We have to share everything that we do, and that we are good at it”
  • “We can’t be so forward, we need to engage our donors/potential donors more before…”

If you’re willing to do things differently, an experienced fundraiser can help you start raising more money immediately.

Successful fundraising is a knowledge issue, not a talent issue

One of the biggest joys of my life is watching fundraisers become Fundraisers. And it almost always happens when they internalize an idea – like the ones I mention above – rather than learning a new tactic.

Donor generosity is amazing

Donors continue to surprise me, even after 25 years. Their generosity is astounding. They want to make the world a better place. They are looking for opportunities to do so.

And we get to tap into that. For a living.

Fundraisers have the best job in the world.

Simple Teaser Tips


The teaser on your outer envelope is far more important than most nonprofits realize.

To help you write better teasers – which will help you raise more money – here are three simple tips for you.

Most successful teasers fall into three categories:

  1. Dramatic. These are teasers that use drama to pique the reader’s interest in order to get her to open the envelope. Some examples: “The Arts are shutting down” and “He used to run a company, now he’s on the streets” and “desperate.”
  2. Mysterious. These are teasers that use mystery to make the reader wonder what’s inside, in order to get her to open the envelope. Some examples: “The light came on” and “Enclosed: note from a child.” Note that not having a teaser – using a blank outer envelope – falls into this category.
  3. Multiplier. These are teasers that appeal to the donor’s sense of value and thriftiness in order to get her to open the envelope. Some examples: “Your gift DOUBLES” and “$1 = $5!”

The best teasers often have elements of more than one category. You see this at work in a teaser like “3x” – which has both mystery and a multiplier.

The Big Idea

Notice something in all of those descriptions above: all the teasers exist to get the donor to open the envelope.

That’s it. That’s the purpose of a teaser: to give the donor a compelling reason to open the envelope.

The whole purpose of any ink used on the envelope should be to increase the chances that a donor will open the envelope.

That’s why, for instance, I always counsel organizations to remove their URL and social info from their outer envelope. You just paid money to write, design, print and send a letter to a person – and so you put your website address on the envelope so that the person has a smaller chance of reading the letter?!? It doesn’t make sense.

The envelope exists to 1) carry the letter and 2) to get people to open it.

Watch Out For…

Watch out for teasers that basically say, “You’re going to be asked for money; inside!”

Those usually reduce response unless they are accompanied by one of the three ideas above.

Quick Story

I was reminded of these when reading a book on direct response marketing. It told a brief story.

An organization had a successful direct mail pack as their control. They ran a test where everything about the pack was exactly the same, except the teaser.

The new teaser was: “Deeply and irrevocably personal.”

A little weird, right?

That teaser increased response to the package by 20%!

That shows the power of a good teaser.

So spend a bit more time on yours – you can see immediate increases in your fundraising!