Before you start pushing mail out the door or emailing wildly, there are some steps you should take.
1. Before you start: are you caring for your current donors?
If you’re not already showing your current donors lots of love, don’t waste your time and money looking for new ones. Unless you’re a nonprofit giant with the money to play “churn and burn”, you’ll just spin your wheels.
What’s your donor retention rate? (Do you know?) Bloomerang to the rescue with this guide. (And a donor database system that’s driven by retention.)
2. What are you asking for? Why?
A successful campaign starts with your case for support. As my friend Lisa Sargent suggests: before you even start writing, think.
Are you ready to make a compelling, moving case for supporting your mission?
Get clear, get organized. Be able to communicate the need emotionally and with urgency.
3. Who are you looking for?
Do you have an in-house list to work with? People who’ve expressed interest, but haven’t yet given? Start there. You’ll do much better with a warm list than a cold one!
I won’t sugarcoat it – if you have nowhere to start, it will be harder.
Have you been building an email list? Is your social media presence strong? Are you getting people to respond and engage with what you write?
Have you tried asking current supporters to recommend you to friends?
If you must, you can rent a list from a reputable list broker. Do your homework first, though. Know your current donors. What are their interests? Where do they live? Who else do they give to? The more detail you can use when looking for a list, the more successful you’ll be.
4. How will you communicate?
This will probably be driven by a few factors:
- Your budget
- Your list
- What’s been successful for you
Whatever you’ve heard, mail is still the workhorse of fundraising.
But even a great response to an acquisition appeal might come to 1%. And it’s more expensive than email (at least if you’re just measuring cost out the door.)
Increase your chances of success by making your appeal as personal as possible.
Consider your carrier envelope. My friend John Lepp urges “anything but a #10 envelope”. (You’ll find a great article on direct mail at that link!)
And think about whether a teaser will help here. A good one can get the envelope opened – a bad one screams, “junk mail”.
And for heaven’s sake, this letter is NOT about your organization! It’s about someone who needs help – and about the donor who can help.
I wouldn’t spend time creating a fancy brochure for the mailing. That’s as likely to depress response as to help. If they really don’t have any reason to know you, you might need something to make the introduction. Maybe a life note from someone they might trust?
If you winced at mail’s response rates, steel yourself if you go with email. It’s worse. In their 2015 Nonprofit Benchmarks Report, M&R found “for every 1,000 fundraising messages delivered to supporters, groups in our study raised $40”.
You’ll also need to have developed a list you can mail to. Remember, email is permission based. If you don’t have permission to email, do not email!
If you want to increase your chances with email, focus and relevance are your friends.
Spend plenty of time on your subject line – like a mail envelope, this is the gate-keeper. If you have enough of a list, consider testing a couple of subject lines first.
Keep the messaging laser-focused. This is not the time for a “newsletter” filled with lots of articles. Know what you’ll ask for and why. Then stick to it.
Use a story and great images to tell it.
Very few nonprofits are raising a lot of money on social media. (Soi Dog Foundation in Thailand is famous for its success. Check them out on Facebook!)
But smart organizations are using one or more social channels to communicate with donors and possible donors. The key is two-way communication: social wins, broadcast is boring.
It’s not easy to engage an audience. It takes work and time. But smaller nonprofits can use Facebook to build an email list.
Person to person
Personal fundraising is still the most effective. The cost? Time and effort. But the work you put into developing new donors will pay off.
5. Have you thought this through to the end?
Acquisition is part of a well-planned program for fundraising. Success happens with repetition, determination, and patience.
To build an acquisition program that works, you’ll try and fail, try and fail, try and succeed. Be ready to lose money at first: acquiring donors is expensive!
And that’s why you need to plan for what happens after the gift before you even ask.
Is your database in good shape?
Have you written a wonderful thank you letter? Pamela Grow suggests writing the thank you first.
How about a welcome series? Planned thank you phone calls right after the gift?
Have you planned for the 2nd gift? (Most experts say a donor isn’t a donor until then.)
You can find new donors
But it takes time, focus and patience. Start with those closest to you and work your way out.
Don’t expect miracle results on your first try.
And take great care of your new donors right from the start.
Photo thanks to Ryan McGuire at Gratisography