By Sarah Tedesco, Executive Vice President at DonorSearch

We all know how much nonprofits rely on fundraising to further their missions. It’s important to build relationships with your existing donors to facilitate long-term support and loyalty to your cause, but in order to grow as an organization, you’ll have to also expand your donor base over time.

Doing so will increase your fundraising capabilities, diversify your donor base, and help spread awareness for your mission, all of which are essential to scale up your nonprofit.

As your organization grows and changes, the same old techniques for acquiring donors won’t carry the same edge they once did. You’ll need to try new strategies and evaluate your efforts’ progress in order to reach and convert new donors.

At DonorSearch, we empower nonprofits to get the most out of their data—and maintaining a good donor acquisition program involves leveraging your donor analytics. Concrete strategies plus the infrastructure to analyze the efficacy of those strategies will be vital to increase your reach and attract more donors. To grow your donor base, we recommend that you:

  1. Develop donor personas
  2. Set SMART goals
  3. Widen your audience
  4. Evaluate your progress

To stay on top of acquiring donors, you’ll need to use a combination of goal-setting, data leveraging, and effective marketing. Let’s dive in!

1. Develop donor personas

Donor personas are fictionalized representations of your target audience—they can help your team understand to whom they are directing their outreach efforts. After all, it’s vital to understand the type of people who have donated to your organization in the past.

In order to develop these personas, you’ll need to analyze the information contained in your donor database. As Salsa’s guide to donor database software emphasizes, your donor database should have the ability to store a variety of essential information about your current donors. To develop donor personas, you’ll want to look at several factors:


The demographics of your donors can be valuable guides in your donor acquisition efforts. Which groups tend to donate regularly, volunteer, or do peer-to-peer fundraising for your organization? You’ll want to look at:

  • Age
  • Gender
  • Ethnicity
  • Income level
  • Geographic location
  • Education
  • Employment

You may discover a trend that most of your donors have higher degrees, live in suburban areas, or make beyond a certain income level. Empowered with this information, you can specifically target these groups to become supporters of your organization.

Psychological Information

While it may sound strange, understanding more about your donors’ minds can provide insight into how and why your cause resonates with them. This can tell you who your cause is most likely to resonate with going forward. After you have some tentative donor personas in the works, reach out to some of your donors who seem to fit the bill and ask them for an interview. You’ll want to find out about their:

  • Attitudes
  • Motivations
  • Lifestyle
  • Personality
  • Worldview

Knowing these data points about your donors can inform your messaging strategy going forward and help you appeal to the attitudes of your target audience.

Engagement history

Combined with demographic and psychological information, your donors’ engagement history with your organization will be useful to generate accurate donor personas. This category focuses on what type of supporter your donors are and how they’ve responded to various outreach in the past. For example, you’ll want to examine:

  • Communication preferences
  • Giving history
  • Volunteer involvement
  • Donor type (one-time, occasional, recurring, major donor)
  • “Origin story” or how they got involved with your organization

Once you’ve integrated all of this information, some main donor types should emerge that can help you craft your personas. Once you’ve generated your personas, all you need to do is give them names and pictures and discuss them with your fundraising team. They’ll be great guides for your donor outreach efforts.

2. Set SMART goals

“Acquire more donors” isn’t exactly an actionable goal for your nonprofit. In order to effectively work toward a target, your goals need to be well-defined. Your donor acquisition goals should follow the SMART template:

  • Specific: A goal like “improving outreach” isn’t a SMART goal because it isn’t nearly specific enough to be effective. With a specific goal, your team will be more motivated to work toward it and it will be clear whether you’ve succeeded or not.
  • Measurable: Set a measurable target for your nonprofit to hit, i.e. acquiring 50 new donors. Make sure your donor acquisition goals can be measured and reported easily in your donor database so your progress is always clear.
  • Achievable: While you want to push your team to do their best and achieve all they can, make sure your goal is actually achievable. Acquiring 800 new donors in one day (unless it’s #GivingTuesday or some other major event) is in most cases not achievable and will only serve to discourage your team when the goal isn’t met.
  • Realistic: Even if the goal is technically achievable, is it realistic to expect from your team and the resources you currently have? Make sure to position your goal within your organization’s reach (with some hard work, of course).
  • Timely: It’s important that your nonprofit define the timeline over which you plan to achieve your goal. A timeline that’s too broad (i.e. 1 year) without quarterly or monthly goals built-in isn’t conducive to success. Meeting regular benchmarks on your way to an annual goal is a much more effective way to achieve your acquisition targets.

A SMART donor acquisition goal for your organization might be: Acquire 50 new donors using email marketing channels in the third quarter of this year. Setting appropriate, measurable goals will make sure your organization’s team always knows what they’re working toward and will make success much more likely!

3. Widen your audience

If your new donor acquisition rates are lagging, it may be time to expand your marketing efforts to reach a broader audience. If you’re solely devoting your marketing budget to any one channel, remember the saying, “Don’t put all your eggs in one basket” and consider diversifying. Think about introducing one of these strategies:

  • Social media marketing: Social media provides a powerful platform for nonprofits. With so many users on sites like Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram, your organization has the potential to reach millions. Using hashtags, producing video content, and introducing social media challenges to spread awareness for your mission are all effective strategies to get more eyes on your organization’s cause.
  • Peer-to-peer (P2P) fundraising: Peer-to-peer fundraising campaigns have the potential to widen your reach significantly by exposing your organization to potential donors who may never have otherwise known of your mission. Because peer-to-peer fundraising empowers your existing donors to spread the word about your cause, you’re able to reach many different social circles. Plus, these new potential donors hear about your organization from one of their friends, making it more likely that they’ll actually check out your cause and donate. (Tip: Facebook birthday fundraisers are particularly popular and effective P2P tools. For more virtual peer-to-peer fundraising ideas, see this guide.)
  • Multi-channel fundraising campaigns: In general, you’ll reach the most people possible if you market your fundraising campaigns and organization across a variety of channels. This means using a combination of digital outreach (i.e. social media, email text) and direct mail. Multiple channels ensure you reach different target markets. For example, direct mail may capture an older audience, but younger people may be more likely to respond to a text appeal.

When it comes to new donor acquisition, making sure your marketing materials get in front of a large and diverse audience is key.

4. Measure and evaluate your progress

As your team implements new strategies and campaigns to acquire new donors, keep in mind the “M” in your SMART goal: measurable. Your donor database software should be able to measure your efforts’ effectiveness by analyzing your data for key metrics.

Look for database software with robust, thorough data analytics capabilities and intuitive reporting features, so you can gather insights from the numbers generated.

Some of the key performance indicators (KPIs) you’ll want to track are:

  • Donor growth rate: This metric reports how quickly your donor pool is increasing. This can give you insight into the efficacy of your donor outreach strategies over a given period.
  • Donor acquisition cost: Most often applied to a specific campaign or marketing channel, donor acquisition cost can guide your future fundraising strategy by telling you how much it costs on average to convert a single donor using the strategy under consideration.
  • Return on investment: This metric can tell your team how well a given fundraising pursuit or marketing campaign worked for your nonprofit. It compares how much was spent on the initiative versus how much revenue was brought in.

These are just a few of the possible KPIs that we recommend in our DonorSearch guide to nonprofit fundraising metrics. But don’t feel like your organization needs to track all of these. Instead, track the KPIs that your nonprofit needs to know based on your specific goals so your team can stay focused.

As your nonprofit grows, it’s important to consider the value in expanding your donor base. Welcoming new donors into your organization will help you secure the funds necessary to reach increasingly ambitious goals when it comes to your mission. So make sure to set specific goals, alter your outreach efforts to reach a wider audience, and consider using donor personas to improve communication strategies with your target audience.

Once all that’s over, make sure to analyze the results of your efforts so you can make better decisions in the future. Best of luck!