FYI Blog

Thoughts on Donor Acquisition Strategy

stick group talkingAt Avalon, one way we keep up to date on industry trends is to solicit insights from experts in our field, looking to expand our knowledge and understanding of what’s working for others. Recently, we sat in on DMFA’s Brown Bag Series on list performance and heard the opinions of three professionals with deep expertise in donor acquisition. Here are some of the highlights:


CELCO President Barbara Sims talked about how acquisition was flat through the first half of 2013. “Organizations were bringing in more money, but from fewer members, with the average gift up, but response rates lagging,” she said. “In that kind of weak prospecting climate, I recommend mailing as many names as possible to try to recruit as many new members as possible – the key is to consider the long game and stem attrition now.” Barb also stressed the importance of looking at online matchback analysis by list, since certain lists may contain people who are more likely to give online. This is also important as it further demonstrates the true value of the mailing.


Bruce Hammer, DonorBase’s VP of Sales shared this advice: “Don’t fear co-ops! Instead, Bruce says, “Think of co-ops as different lists and try them all, co-ops have different data sets and different methodology yielding different prospects. Balance your various list types in each mailing, with co-ops comprising 30%- 50% of the mix.” In general, most organizations’ lists match 90% of the names already in a co-op (this can vary wildly depending on the co-op) – and those are the names the co-ops want and perform the best: multi-givers. So look at the types of organizations the donors in your co-op lists are giving to – this will give you ideas for other markets to test. And don’t give up on a co-op list after one test – it may take a few tests to fine-tune your model, but it’s worth it. Multiple studies show that co-op lists have an ROI that is off the charts. And remember that communicating your organization’s goals and current metrics are critical to building a successful model. For more on co-ops, you might want to revisit Avalon’s blog on compiled lists, here.

And finally, we heard from Cathy Finney, Deputy VP Strategic Services for the Wilderness Society (TWS) to get the nonprofit point of view. In 2013, TWS’s acquisition program saw its lowest response rate and highest cost to acquire a new donor for the past five years. Cathy has some simple ideas for getting a prospecting program back on track. “Using renewal language – even for cold prospects – works for TWS,” said Cathy. “And break out of the rut by trying a different style of package, like an inexpensive invoice package, for your multi-givers. We saw a 20% lift in response when we tried this approach.” She also advises remailing those non-donors who responded to a prospecting package by taking an action (e.g., signed a petition, filled out a survey). They tend to be high responders to future mailings, so test sending different types of packages to this group (like a multis package, appeal, or renewal, etc.). And Cathy recommends testing different recent giving ranges for this group (0-6 months, 7-12 months, etc.). And finally, try a reverse append on your email list, then model and mail those names in acquisition – a new list stream of warm prospects.


Check in next month for part two of Avalon’s acquisition blog series – next time, we go over Avalon client benchmarks in acquisition.