By Robin L. Cabral, MA, CFRE, MFIA, founder of Development Consulting Services, which serves both fundraising professionals and executive directors new to fundraising, wanting to excel in their fundraising role, or advance in their career. She provides proven fundraising strategies, tactics, and tools including coaching, training, and content for fundraising success.

Development audit after development audit of small- to mid-sized organizations reveals that while donor retention remains a critical issue there is also another issue that is equally important. Far too many groups are not focusing their fundraising efforts on wide-scale donor acquisition efforts. As a result, many are witnessing stagnant yearly returns or, even more alarmingly, consistent declines.

Gone are the days of list acquisitions and swapping of mailing lists. Today, there are much more effective and cost-efficient strategies with higher returns. Groups need to be willing to embrace them to see increasing returns on the health of their development programs.

Consider these options when thinking about how to acquire donors for our nonprofit organization:

1) Use Google Analytics to determine how many visitors you have to your website.

You may just be surprised at how many uncaptured leads that you have. The question is, do most fundraisers know their website analytics? And, do they even realize the potential of this source of prospects for acquisition purposes?

2) Move beyond social posting to targeted social advertising.

In this age of Google Ad Grants and inexpensive Facebook, Instagram, and Twitter targeted advertising, one can drive traffic from what is a primary relationship-building platform to an organization’s website or to a lead or landing page. Social media sites are for relationship building. They are not places where individuals go first to seek out information about a cause or to make a donation. Surely, we should be looking at social networks as a “cultivation” and “relationship-building” tool in the same sense that we do offline in person.

3) Capture social media followers that visit your website.

Very rarely will folks sign up for a newsletter from a newsletter sign-up form upon first glance. You need to develop a vehicle that will capture their interest and engage them in your organization. Common ways of doing this are through online petitions, surveys relating to your cause, product or item distribution, or a whitepaper or e-book “call to action.” For example:

4) Begin cultivating your new donor prospects.

Once you capture their names, then you need to continue to cultivate them online. Far too often, I see groups that end here. Whether the medium in which you capture their information is a survey or a petition, I highly recommend that you create a customized donor stewardship engagement series. This series would consist of a string of emails tailored to respond to the engagement medium. This engagement series of emails would continue for a definite period. Further segmentation can be done with this engagement series based on prospect identity as determined by the engagement device quiz, survey, or other tool. Different segments can be placed into different “donor journey” streams for more intensive cultivation.

5) Engage new donors into an online stewardship email series.

The culmination of this email cultivation series must be with the aim of converting to donors. Once a gift has been made, this segment of donors gets placed in a customized stewardship engagement stream of emails. For example, a donor journey “Welcome Series” email:

6) Continue to engage non-donors.

For those who do not make a donation through your initial stewardship program, I do not recommend that you “give up” on engagement. I recommend that you keep “speaking” to them by sending them your regular e-news updates and existing appeals. You can further follow-up on these non-converting prospects with perhaps a series of telephone calls aimed at further conversion.

The whole premise is that you are taking prospects from a highly relational, social mode of networking through targeted advertising to an engagement vehicle that works to capture their contact information and form of identifying preferences. Once they have been “identified,” you can then place them in a highly specific cultivation engagement stream of emails and communications over several weeks and months aimed to convert them to supporters. It has been noted that it may take a digital prospect up to 12 digital impressions before they decide to donate.

You can drive people to your website, but you can’t force them to give. You must cultivate that relationship like you would with any offline prospect turning “cold” prospect leads into “warm” or even “hot” donor prospects.

The aim is to keep sharing and inviting them to support the organization.

While some groups focus on targeting ads that may drive interested prospects to their website and may capture their information, they fail at the back-end to provide the highly specific, segmented cultivation engagement series that works to convert these prospects into donors. One should not ignore these prospects, or else these donor acquisition efforts will fail.

Alternatively, groups may drive traffic to their website or landing page but ask too prematurely before the prospect has even been appropriately cultivated. What happens online must follow the same offline prospecting to identification to qualification to cultivation to solicitation to stewardship model. The techniques are the same; it is just the medium that is different.

Robin L. Cabral, MA, CFRE, MFIA works with fundraising professionals to position themselves to build capacity and generate more fundraising prospects, better donor relationships, and bigger fundraising dollars all the while reducing their role overwhelm and helping them to grow into their careers. Follow her on LinkedIn, like her on Facebook, on Twitter, and learn more at her website at