10 Low-Cost Ways to Build a Donor and Prospect List

Having a strong base of support is critical for the survival of any nonprofit. Your donors are often your best volunteers, and planned-giving and major-donor prospects often begin with smaller gifts through direct response.

Gone are the days when large numbers of donors can be acquired at no cost to a nonprofit. With very few exceptions (i.e., a heavily media-supported disaster that you are a first responder to), it takes an investment of money, hard work and some creativity to build a donor file.

For many nonprofits, acquisition budgets have been cut to the bone, and attrition continues to eat away at the donor file. Here are 10 mostly low-cost suggestions to build your donor and prospect list, despite the ever-shrinking budget.

  1. Include a request for referral names in newsletters, receipts and other mailings. Your donors’ families and friends are often “of like mind” and will be interested in your cause.
  2. Become an active “tweeter,” and keep your Facebookpage current, offering content that people want — and will pass on to others.
  3. Be visible in the community. Have a booth or presence at local events, encouraging people to sign up for your newsletter, tweets or another sources of content that have value to them.
  4. Run small newspaper ads frequently with unusual or extraordinary offers (if you are in a small or midsized market and the cost isn’t prohibitive). Your goals are name recognition and getting people to check out your website, Facebook page, tweets, etc., that can lead to donations.
  5. Create a recognition society for your donors, keeping the “cost of admission” low. This can make donating fun, give people an incentive to give more (to move up to the next level, for example) and attract other donors if your society members become your ambassadors.
  6. At events, in ads and online, offer a monthly giving opportunity or sponsorship at a low cost. Your goal is to get someone to commit to giving regularly rather than being a “drive-by donor” who you don’t hear from again. You can always upgrade her later.
  7. Host a hands-on event for the younger demographic that ties in to your mission. Help younger donors fall in love with your mission by giving their time to something that offers purpose and socialization. They may not have money to give now, but a positive experience can create a great PR force.
  8. Local businesses often offer “community bulletin boards” to promote your activities. Make your poster the one that stands out among all the others. “Boring” is the norm; don’t be normal!
  9. Put content on your website that relates to your mission and is useful. For example, if you work with kids, provide back-to-school safety tips or recipes for healthy after-school snacks. Always include an opportunity to sign up for your e-news or mailing list on the page. If your content is fresh and useful, people will want more of it — and will pass it along.
  10. Never, ever bore your donors to death. Your message may be “we need money,” but find a creative way to show the problem and how good you are at fixing it.

Sometimes building a mailing list is like the story of the tortoise and the hare. Your work may be slow and unglamorous, but you’ll see steady growth of your mailing list at a cost you can afford.

Originally published in NonProfit Pro.

Author: PJBarden

With a professional career in strategic fundraising that spans more than 35 years, Pamela brings a wealth of experience and knowledge to working with nonprofit organizations. She specializes in writing fundraising copy, grant proposals, P.R. materials, instructional articles and blog entries, as well as developing and executing fundraising strategy for her clients. Pamela is a Certified Fundraising Executive (CFRE); an instructor for UCLA Extension School’s Fundraising Certification Program and the University of La Verne, College of Business and Public Management; a frequent webinar speaker; and author of two online courses for UCLA Extension. Pamela earned a Doctorate of Business Administration in 2015; her doctoral project (dissertation) was entitled “Nonprofit Organizations’ Awareness of and Preparation for Legislation, Regulation, and Increasing Scrutiny.” She is a past winner of a Gold Award for Fundraising Excellence and an ECHO Award from DMA; recipient of a Distinguished Instructors Award from UCLA Extension; a weekly columnist for NonprofitPRO (formerly Fundraising Success); and a monthly contributor to Blackbaud’s blog, npEngage.

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