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Do Nonprofits Really Need to Focus on Donor Acquisition?

Last week, a well-known fundraising strategist on social media suggested that the nonprofit sector eliminate the phrase “donor acquisition.”  

By thinking about the need to acquire new donors and talking about how to acquire them, we are creating a mindset that donors are something that the organization “owns” – like acquiring wealth or a taste for something like Brussels sprouts that are often not enjoyed quickly and easily.  

Whether your mission is to serve the under-resourced, save the environment, create inspiring and life-enhancing works of art, care for animals, or any other cause, you are doing good and making a difference. The purpose of fundraising and finding new donors to support your mission is to have the resources you need to do the good you do.  

If, in fact, fundraising is about building relationships with people who care about what we care about, then it has little to do with “acquiring” and more to do with attracting and inviting others to join us in the good being done.  

You might say this is a matter of semantics. But words matter. Words matter in life. Words matter in fundraising.  

Focus on Providing Value to the Community

Perhaps we don’t need to find and acquire new donors, but rather, we are called to provide value to the community we serve. We are called to make a difference in the world around us. And we are called to not be shy in telling the world about the difference being made by the work we do.  

When we clearly articulate our message, present a strong case for support, and amplify the impact of the work we do through as many channels and avenues as possible, others who care will find us. We tell everyone we can so that those who share our passion know who we are, what we do, why we do it, and what difference in makes.   

We then invite those who are passionate about the cause, who want to be part of the change they hope to see in the world, to join us.  

We are building a community of collective concern and generosity. We are encouraging a movement.  

When thinking about how we find new donors, we might do well to consider how sports fans engage with their passion. They listen to sports on the radio, watch it on television, view the recaps and highlights on the nightly news and 24-hour streaming services. They wear swag, attend events, and throw parties – all in support of a team they love. They can’t get enough of it.  

You’re probably thinking, “But sports are entertaining! We have serious problems we are trying to address!” 

Yes, we do. That’s why it is even more important to generate interest and passion around the activities, services, and benefits we bring to our communities. We want to change the world for the better!  

Are We Counting Transactions or Building Relationships? 

To find new supporters and create a supportive, committed network of ambassadors, donors, and key stakeholders, a shift from a transactional to a relational approach to fundraising is critical. 

Let’s stop buying into the uber-capitalist, competitive acquisition of funds and start focusing on how we invite others to share our passion.  

How are you building relationships with your current donors and the larger community to keep them engaged in the good you do? How are you inspiring them? What good news do you share to motivate them to get more involved? Do you educate them on the factors that impact your area of concern? Do they trust you to provide resources, information, and perspectives about your cause?  

Making Personal Connections

Philanthropic giving is very personal, but it is rarely private. Many people love to share why they give to a cause they love.  

When others begin to join us in moving our mission forward, let’s take time to listen. Let’s ask them what inspires them. Why are they passionate about this cause? What motivates them to get involved? 

Every person has a story – a reason they chose to give to one organization instead of another. Sometimes it is as simple as, “they asked” or “right place, right time.” Others have been profoundly touched by some element of your mission – they had a loved one who died from the disease you are fighting, they adore animals and hate to see them suffer, or they enjoy contemplating the beauty and magic of fine art.  

If you can pick up the phone to thank a donor for their gift (especially if it is their first gift), be sure to ask them what inspired their giving. If you don’t have the capacity for a one-to-one phone call to every donor, try sending a simple survey inviting them to share a testimonial about why they gave.  

Understanding why someone gives to your organization will go a long way in building a meaningful, long-lasting relationship. And building meaningful relationships with those who share our passion is really what finding new donors is all about. 

Published July 22, 2022

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