Donor Acquisition: The Complete Guide to Attracting New Donors

The key to effective donor acquisition is a careful balance of costs, donor value, and thoughtful marketing.

As a nonprofit professional, donor acquisition has probably become a staple of your everyday vocabulary. After all, acquiring new donors is a top priority for any fundraising organization. 

From keeping you on track for continued growth to supplementing lapsed donors, donor acquisition is a building block of your nonprofit’s health, and having a strong plan for tackling acquisition should be top-of-mind.

In this guide, we will walk you through the fundamentals of donor acquisition, including everything you need to know to build a robust, cost-effective donor acquisition strategy of your own. We’ll cover: 

What is Donor Acquisition?

What is the Lifetime Value of your Donors?

Top Donor Acquisition Strategies

Let’s begin with a brief overview of donor acquisition.

What is Donor Acquisition?

Donor acquisition is the process of finding, attracting, and securing new donors through your marketing channels. It is measured by the number of donors your organization attains in a given time frame, and the way you go about collecting new or potential donors can vary.

For example, as social media evolves, digital donor acquisition is becoming an increasingly important addition to many nonprofits’ acquisition strategies. Along with investing in traditional direct mail and email campaigns, the average nonprofit also posts once a day to Facebook and Twitter and twice a week to Instagram.
Whatever channels your nonprofit uses to cultivate new donors, donor acquisition itself is absolutely essential to your continued success. Even if you perfectly engage and steward your current donors, you will need to invest in new donors to keep your donor file size from shrinking and your fundraising streams from drying up.

Donor Acquisition vs Donor Retention

Whenever there’s a conversation about donor acquisition, donor retention isn’t far behind. That’s because these distinct but complementary strategies are the key to creating a stable donor base. 

Donor acquisition is heavily tied to marketing and refers to new donors that are brought into your organization. On the other hand, donor retention is all about stewarding and maintaining the donors that are currently on file. 

Together, they feed into one another to create a steady stream of support for your nonprofit. Once you attract a new supporter, your donor retention strategies will help to turn that new donor into a dedicated supporter for your cause. At the same time, donor acquisition supplements donors that have lapsed and cultivates new streams of revenue. 

Ultimately, to have a healthy, growing base of support for your nonprofit, you’ll need to strike a balance between your investment in donor retention and acquisition.

What is the Lifetime Value of your Donors?

Before you start a donor acquisition program, it is important to have a good understanding of the lifetime value of your donors. Understanding the amount this value represents is a key factor in establishing your acquisition budget. 

Donor lifetime value (LTV) is a predicted measurement of how much gross revenue you can expect to be contributed from a donor who has been in your files for at least five years. 

This metric not only takes gift size into account, but the frequency of giving and the total amount of time that donors will stick with your organization. Donors naturally come and go, but acquiring and retaining donors who will remain dedicated to your cause for years to come, giving generously and frequently, will provide significant, long-term gains for your organization.

In terms of acquisition specifically, donor lifetime value also helps you to better understand the total return on investment (ROI) of your donor acquisition strategies. While investing in donor acquisition will come at an initial financial loss, LTV reveals what the real net gains and losses of your acquisition efforts will ultimately come out to be.

However, accurately calculating average donor lifetime value can be a little tricky. First, you must calculate your average donor expectancy, which is a metric determined by your donor attrition and retention rates. Then you must multiply this function by the average donation size and frequency of giving. This gives you a final value of what the average donor will bring to your organization during the entirety of their engagement with you.

If you are unsure of these metrics, Meyer Partners can help you audit your donor file to determine your rate of attrition and your lifetime donor value.

The next important formula to consider is cost to acquire. Cost to Acquire is the expense rate for acquiring a particular number of donors.

[Net Costs of Acquisition Strategies] / [Total # of Donors Acquired] = Cost to Acquire

This metric is not only a good value to factor into your nonprofit’s total expenses, but also a measure of success for how effective your acquisition strategies are. It is important to remember that the Cost to Acquire will vary between organizations and the lowest cost-to-acquire isn’t always best. Premium acquired donors often have a very low up-front cost, but that is usually coupled with a lower average gift and very low long-term value.

What is a Good Donor Acquisition Rate?

It’s difficult to give an exact number that makes for a good acquisition rate, because what constitutes a “good” range is entirely dependent on your nonprofit’s goals.

For instance, are you pushing to really expand your base of support, or simply keep pace with donor churn and focus instead on engagement during your current quarter? Furthermore, having a high donor acquisition rate is hardly something to celebrate if your retention rates and long-term value of donors are low.

To determine a good rate of donor acquisition for your nonprofit, establish your goals and keep an eye on retention metrics. These factors will determine what pace of acquisition aligns with the needs of your organization.

Top Donor Acquisition Strategies

While most nonprofit professionals have a strong understanding of donor acquisition as a concept, actually implementing effective acquisition strategies is another matter entirely.

After all, billions of potential prospects to choose from, how are you supposed to whittle down your audience to the most likely pools who will be receptive to your messaging? Furthermore, what are the best tactics to reach and inspire them?

To help you answer these questions, increase the effectiveness of your outreach, and hopefully lower the cost of donor acquisition, we’ve prepared the following donor acquisition strategies:

Our Top Recommendation: Create a Donor Acquisition Plan

Before you leap into new and exciting ways to reach your potential donors, formulate a plan for how, when, and where your donor acquisition strategies will be put to the best use. Follow these steps to make the most of your acquisition efforts: 

Set your goals. 

First, pin down your nonprofit’s unique acquisition goals. How many new donors are you hoping to attain? Take your historical acquisition costs into account, as well as the long-term value that these donors will offer your organization in terms of gift size and frequency of giving. 

Also keep in mind that investing in new donors will come as an initial loss, with gains accumulating gradually as donors remain with your organization and make multiple gifts.

Evaluate your data.

Now that you have a firm understanding of your organization’s goals, carefully examine your current donor database to assess what channels and strategies will be most effective. Specifically, take a close at the following data points: 

Personal donor demographics, such as age, profession, & location

Per-channel conversion and open rates 

Per-channel giving amounts & giving frequency

The success and failure of previous acquisition campaigns

For example, consider how Meyer Partners helped streamline donor acquisition for the Meals on Wheels Foundation of Northern Illinois. By comparing the performances of its past rental lists and initiating a refresh of these package models, we were able to lower acquisition costs by 68% and raise the average gift by over 20%.

Build your outreach strategies.

Reflect on the data that you’ve collected. These metrics will help you to create detailed personas of your main donor and prospect audiences, determine what channels are best to reach them, and understand what kind of messaging will best appeal to them. It is also wise to consider what outside lists to include to target prospective donors. Most organizations rely on rental, exchange, or cooperative model lists to identify potential like-minded prospects.

Be sure to segment your donors, as well. Creating groups based on past giving capacity for lapsed donors, their connection with other donors, and their philanthropic history (ex: volunteerism), will allow you to further personalize your messaging and increase engagement. 

For even more precision in your acquisition strategies, consider taking advantage of our modeling tools. Meyer Partners offers an intuitive predictive modeling service that can accurately gauge actionable metrics that not only include how much a donor is able to give, but even at what times they are most likely to give.

Test and track your results.

Test, test, and test again. Rather than diving headfirst into an uncertain acquisition strategy, perform careful evaluations of new kinds of messaging. Track key performance indicators (KPIs), such as response rate and cost to acquire, and reach out to donors for feedback. 

This will give you a better understanding of how these strategies perform and what steps can be taken to make them as effective as possible.

Request a no-cost consultation

6 Additional Donor Acquisition Strategies to Increase Growth

Ready to test out some classic, modified, or altogether new strategies for increasing your rates of donor acquisition? Take a look at a few more of the most effective donor acquisition strategies from our team of experts.


Direct mail is a timeless fundraising and marketing channel that can engage donors far more effectively than a single given social media post or email. 

While some nonprofits underutilize direct mail in favor of digital acquisition strategies, partially in the hope of connecting with younger and broader audiences, they will be surprised to know that direct mail boasts an open rate of up to 90%. Furthermore, 30% of millennials consider direct mail to be more effective at inspiring them to take action compared to email’s 26%.


Google Ad Grants is a charitable program run by Google, wherein the company gives $10,000 a month to nonprofits to invest in Google Search advertising. And considering how pivotal Google has become as a global engine people use to navigate their everyday lives, it would make quite a splash to be able to invest in this form of marketing. 

Be sure to check your eligibility for Google Ad Grants. Furthermore, be mindful that your website and featured pages are call-to-action-rich, visually engaging, and optimized for navigation from all devices.


Email marketing is a cornerstone of donor communications and stewardship. However, email is also highly vulnerable to poor open and conversion rates, with donors willing and able to unsubscribe to or divert uninteresting emails with the click of a button.

To engage potential donors and increase click-through, enrich your email appeals with compelling images, nonprofit storytelling techniques, and links to valuable content—such as ebooks, testimonials, and video resources.


Social media is one of the most versatile digital donor acquisition tools available to you. Not only can you share photos, videos, and downloadable resources, but you can easily tag and share your posts to relevant communities and accounts that would be interested in spreading your message.

To maximize the effectiveness of your social media campaigns, be sure to include clickable calls-to-action (CTAs) for important functions, namely donating and subscribing to your post feeds.


Your website is one of the most important tools in your nonprofit’s entire fundraising and marketing arsenals. To better acquire online donors, be sure that online users are immediately engaged with your landing page and are able to easily navigate through your content. 

To accomplish this, consider these web design best practices as a starting point:

Optimize for mobile

Increase page load speed

Maintain consistent branding

Leverage rich, compelling images

Use white space effectively

Include skimmable, actionable headlines and clickable CTAs

From desktop users who entered your website through a blog post to mobile users thumbing through your homepage after clicking on an Instagram CTA, every potential donor should enjoy a seamless online experience.


Whether you’re looking for help implementing the previous acquisition strategies, want even more strategies, or would just prefer the insight of experienced professionals, seeking out a nonprofit marketing agency is a great way to optimize acquisition.

If you’re interested in professional aid for your organization’s acquisition and marketing techniques, consider Meyer Partners. Our full-service nonprofit communications firm has served hundreds of nonprofit organizations to help them maximize outreach, boost retention, and increase fundraising success. Just take a look at a handful of the dedicated services offered by our agency:

Direct mail marketing & fundraising

Integrated, multichannel communications

Landing page optimization

Predictive modeling tools

Data & donor file audit services

Creative nonprofit storytelling

Whatever your cause and whoever makes up your base of support, Meyer Partners can empower you to better acquire, engage, and retain your donors for long-term growth and development.

Request a No-Cost Consultation

Additional Resources: 

Interested in learning more about how you can better engage and cultivate your nonprofit’s donor base? Take a look at a few of our other nonprofit resources:

The Donor Pyramid: How to Steward Mid-Level Donors. Sharpen your donor stewardship strategies with a detailed exploration of the donor pyramid and the donor matrix.

Direct Mail Fundraising for Nonprofits: Tips & Top Providers. Make the most of the fundraising, marketing, and acquisition potential of direct mail with our top tips, best practices, and providers guide.

Professional Fundraising Consultants: Find the Right Firm. Match with the perfect team of professionals to serve your fundraising needs. Take a look at our dedicated guide to professional fundraising consultant firms.