Now that spring has finally arrived, it’s a good time to talk about donor acquisition and cultivation.

If you follow the latest fundraising news and trends, you’ve probably read many articles about ‘donor fatigue’ and ‘market saturation’. And you’ve probably heard about the increased competition among charities for donor dollars. Given all of this, it’s no surprise that these days, donors are much more selective about the organizations they choose to support. This might lead you to believe that charities should not invest money and resources in acquisition.

You’d be wrong.

Donor acquisition is just as important as renewing and upgrading your existing donors. Attracting new donors not only helps to offset normal attrition (loss of donors), but it also allows you to focus on growing your donor base and revenues.

When planning your acquisition activity (and budget) for the year, there are a few things you’ll want to keep in mind.

1. Identify your target audience

Some charities have an audience of ‘warm’ prospects that they can reach out to for support. If you’re a hospital foundation, your warm prospects would be former patients or grateful patients as we like to refer to them. For a university, you’d be looking at your Alumni. Other charities are membership based. You might also consider working with your senior volunteers to identify individuals who have an interest in supporting your cause.

Using your own databases and lists is cheaper than renting or buying lists, and former patients, alumni and volunteers usually have a greater affinity towards your organization. If you really don’t have access to a ‘warm’ list of prospects, renting or buying lists may be your only option.  There are some great products out there to help you identify the best prospects based on criteria such as age, gender, and household income as well as mail-responsiveness (if that’s the kind of list you’re looking for).

2. Identify the appropriate channel     

According to the folks at Blackbaud, though online-acquired donors are on the rise, direct mail is still the primary channel for new donor acquisition. The most appropriate channel for your organization may depend on your donor base. For example, we know that most online-acquired donors are significantly younger than direct mail acquired donors, so online acquisition might be a good fit for a charity with a predominantly younger donor base.

Other acquisition channels do exist including phone, event (make sure you collect the names of event participants and those who sponsor a participant) and face-to-face (like door-to-door canvassing). The most successful charities will communicate with donors (and potential donors) using a multichannel approach to meet donors where they are. Using the internet, charities can now solicit, steward, and renew donors via email, website, and social media and the phone is a great vehicle for renewing and upgrading donors as well as converting single gift donors to monthly giving.

3. Define your offer 

When trying to attract a prospective donor, you really have to tell them what your charity is all about. What work are you doing (and what have you already done) to move your cause forward?

Tell them what still needs to be done and how their support could help you accomplish this. Try and be as specific as you can – maybe it’s a particular piece of equipment or a program.  Your offer must be compelling – try sharing a story about someone who has benefited from the work you’re doing. Donors want to know that their support will make a difference.  And invite them to contact you if they have any questions or would like more information.

 4. Review your current stewardship plan

Once you’ve managed to attract these new donors, be good to them, show them a little love, and for god’s sake, report back and let them know how their money is being spent!  After making their donation, the donor is feeling all warm and fuzzy and your job is to ensure that feeling continues.

Proper acknowledgement would include a thank you letter and tax receipt as soon as possible after the gift is made (a thank you phone call would be even better!) Some organizations send a ‘welcome package’. This typically consists of a thank you letter welcoming the donor and usually includes additional information about your organization. If you aren’t already sending a welcome package – I recommend that you add that to your list for 2013! The next biggest hurdle after you’ve acquired a new donor is to get them to make a second gift. Stay in touch with them, consider inviting them to an event to see firsthand how their support is making a difference, and keep thanking them.

What kinds of acquisition plans do you have in with works for 2013?  How are you attracting new donors and growing your file?

This post was written by Heather Brown, former Philanthropic Counsel at Good Works and fundraiser extraordinaire.

Banner Image Credit: macwagen on Flickr via Creative Commons