Back to School … Back to Acquisition

The stores are full of spiral notebooks, No. 2 pencils and laptops, so it must be “back to school” time. This is also when many nonprofits begin to think about acquisition again and wonder how they can profitably add new donors to their files.

I’ve received my first two 2012 calendars from nonprofits seeking donations. They are hard to miss, given the oversized envelope and contents that clearly promise more than just a letter.

But whether you mail a calendar or a letter, or send an e-mail, these few reminders can help acquire more donors who will have long relationships with your nonprofit.

Get them in
It’s been said before, but it’s too essential to ignore. If donors aren’t intrigued enough by the carrier envelope of your direct mail or the subject line of an e-mail, it doesn’t matter what else you include. They won’t see it. Given the low response rates of most acquisition, keeping costs low is essential. Trim here and skimp there, but never “go cheap” on your envelope or think any subject line will do. Creativity has to be amped up to max when designing and/or writing these two elements. While a closed-face, quality stock envelope with a commemorative First Class stamp is powerful, it’s generally not cost-effective for acquisition. So find something between that and the plain white offset No. 10 window envelope — and make donors want to open the envelope or e-mail.

Remember the tsk of acquisition copy
Successful acquisition copy isn’t first and foremost about educating. It isn’t about creating a mailing that everyone on your staff loves. It’s about getting people who don’t know anything about you (and may not care to change that fact) to give donations. Everything in the mail package or e-mail/landing page combo has to drive toward a donation. This is not the place to include (or link to) your corporate brochure or annual report. Brag about your low overhead with a pie chart on the back of the reply card or in the footer of the e-mail; the letter or the e-mail copy is about motivating people to donate.

Don’t expect trust with the first gift
We all love undesignated giving. But a non-donor doesn’t have any reason to trust you. Asking him or her to give you $20 to use as you see fit can stop any potential donor in his or her tracks. For the first gift, ask for a specific amount to do a very specific thing. You can wean them to undesignated giving after you’ve built the trust factor.

Start small
Unless you have a clearly defined offer at a higher dollar amount (for example, the $240 surgery from Operation Smile), ask for a smaller gift. Acquisition is about turning non-donors into donors. A smaller ask is usually more comfortable for people who don’t yet know and trust you. Focus on upgrading once you get them to begin giving.

Make it easy to respond
For an e-mail acquisition campaign, send responders to a landing page that’s created just for that message. Don’t expect a potential donor to navigate your homepage to find the generic donation page. For a direct-mail piece, make sure the reply card is user-friendly. Instead of cramming the credit card information on the front, expecting donors to write in four-point cursive, invite them to “Please turn over to give by credit card.” Then, print a spacious area for them to write in their credit card information. Yes, this can mess up automated processing of the responses, but the goal is to secure new donors, not win the “automated nonprofit of the year” award.

Have a strategy for securing the second gift
Even when there is a solid plan in place, half or more of first-time donors often don’t give second gifts. Run some numbers: How much more would you raise if 10 percent more of your first-time donors gave second gifts of the same amount? Acquisition is expensive, so we ought to put some time and money into making sure we aren’t securing what a colleague of mine called “drive-by donors.”

At a minimum, your strategy should include a very timely receipt (mailed within 72 hours of the gift being received is the minimum goal) and, for online gifts, an immediate — and friendly — acknowledgment. (For some reason, acknowledgments often sound like they were written by a robot. Let’s ooze a little love and gratitude here.) You also need to have a welcome mailing of some sort; this is a good place for the educational material, but include an ask, too. Finally, the first few appeals new donors receive should focus on your most appealing projects.

My experience shows that if a new donor doesn’t give a second gift in 90 days, statistically it’s unlikely he or she will ever give a second gift. So, you have a three-month window to work with. Have your plan ready to go before your acquisition letter drops into the mailbox or you click “send” on your e-mail — and you’ll be more likely to acquire donors who become long-term partners.


Originally published on 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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