Trying to get new supporters for your school but not sure where to start? Donor acquisition is doable with these five steps.

Building donor acquisition strategies and techniques can be daunting for many higher education institutions. In fact, it is one of the top fundraising challenges experienced by nonprofits year over year. Despite this, organizations are not holding back; more than 60% of organizations shared that they saw an increase in the number of new donors over the previous year. While acquiring new (especially mid to major gift) donors can be time-intensive, donor acquisition is still critical. It provides an opportunity to engage prospective donors more deeply in your mission and establish long-lasting relationships.

As your school looks to grow your mid to major gift donor base, consider the following.

Steps to acquire Meaningful Donors

1. Assess and determine the quality of prospects already in your database.

Many organizations have a large amount of untapped prospect potential within their database. Start by pulling a list of prospects in your database who have not made a gift — prospects in the discovery stage of moves management. Take the time to understand a prospect’s capacity to give and their affinity to like-minded causes. Do your research; if you have wealth-screening tools and a prospect research team, tap into those resources. If your organization is lean, search for giving history shared in annual reports, press releases, etc. on the web.

When determining the quality of a prospect and if they’re worth your resources, ask yourself the following questions:

Prospects with all three factors — ability, affinity, and access — are the most likely to make a gift to your organization at the leadership level.

2. Connect with those closest to your organization to identify additional donor prospects.

Lean on those closest to your organization to identify what potential prospects your organization should consider engaging. These could be:

Acquiring new donors is much easier if an access point exists to a potential conversation. Learn how to engage this potential new donor from those who hold the relationship.

3. Establish a segmented list of prospective new donors and assign it to gift officers.

Once a list has been compiled, consider segmenting the list by prospect capacity. Then, assign a targeted number of prospects to members of your major gift team and/or leadership annual fund team for customized outreach. You will only be able to acquire mid-to-major gift donors if you focus on establishing a personal connection between the prospective donor and your college/university.

4. Activate outreach for prospective new donors and qualify them within a targeted timeframe.

At CCS, we have had success accelerating donor acquisition through discovery outreach of prospects with at least ability and affinity. Gift officers qualify a targeted number of assigned prospects through at least four contact attempts over six weeks. Contact attempts are various customized emails and phone calls. The goal is to schedule an introductory meeting with the prospect to begin opening the door to a potential future gift.

Sample Contact Plan for Prospects

Outreach Type
1Personalized email outreach
2Introductory phone call/voicemail
3Follow up on the initial phone call (no voicemail) and write a personal follow-up email if you don’t connect
4Final phone call (voicemail) and/or email

5. If the door is open, nurture the donor relationship.

Once contact has been made and the prospect is open to a conversation, remember to ground your discussion in the institution’s mission and their potential affinity or connection. This is just the beginning of many more touchpoints. Make sure to cultivate and steward each relationship.

Thoughtful Donor Acquisition Sets Your Organization Up for Success

Donor acquisition and donor retention go hand-in-hand. The time and energy that your college or university puts into securing a first gift must be followed by a thoughtful stewardship process focused on retaining donors year after year. Donor acquisition can feel like a long process, but it is important to foster the next generation of donors. Committing time and effort to thoughtfully acquire new donors enables your school to sustain itself and grow well into the future.

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