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The Proven Difference Between Big and Small Fundraising Shops With Finding New Donors [NEW DATA].

Posted by Andrew Littlefield on Dec 14, 2015 10:00:00 AM

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Finding new donors is tough. For most organizations, repeat donors make up the majority of their giving pyramid. But savvy nonprofits know they need to be feeding the top of their funnel every month if they want to grow their base.

So how do fundraisers feel about their donor acquisition strategy? We surveyed 56 nonprofit professionals to learn more about how they find new donors their feelings on donor acquisition at their organizations.

The answers are a great look into what works and what doesn’t when it comes to getting new donors.

Department Size

A majority of respondents to the survey worked in organizations with development departments with between 2 - 5 people (54% of respondents), followed by one-person departments at 11% of respondents.

fundraising department size

Larger departments were more rare, with 27% of respondents reporting fundraising departments of more than 5 people.

Where Do Nonprofits Find New Donors?

What’s the most effective method for finding new donors? We asked our survey participants to rank seven different donor acquisition strategies from most valuable to least valuable. Here’s what they had to say:

how to find new donors

The most valuable? No surprises here, it’s referrals from current donors. The hardest part of getting a new donor is just finding that connection point, so getting a personal intro from an existing donor goes a long way in bringing new support to the organization. Board member networks came in at a close second, along with events.

The least valuable sources of new donors was crowdfunding and online campaigns, followed by online content, then social media. This echoes concerns from many in the fundraising world that online content is great for spreading awareness of an organization, but converting those people into donors is a struggle.

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Attitudes About Donor Acquisition

Where things get really interesting is in respondents attitudes towards donor acquisition and whether or not they feel like their organizations are systematic in their approach to donor acquisition:

finding new donors

The split between respondents who agreed or disagreed that their organization had a systematic approach to donor acquisition was fairly even, with a lean towards those who did not feel that their organizations were systematic in their approach. 52% disagreed, while 31% agreed with that statement.

What gets more interesting is when we split the group by large and small fundraising shops.

Small shops (between one and five people working in a fundraising capacity) lean much more heavily towards feeling like they don't have a systematic approach to finding new donors. 61% of small shop fundraisers felt this way! Only 17% of small shop fundraisers felt they had a systematic approach to donor acquisition.

Let's compare this to larger shops (six development workers and up). Here we see the responses flip. 66% of big fundraising shops feel they have a systematic approach, with only 27% disagreeing.

small shop fundraising

The Biggest Obstacles for Finding New Donors

To find out what kind of obstacles fundraisers face to find new donors, we asked for some short form answers about what keeps them from improving their donor acquisition. The answers were pretty varied and offered some great insights into the struggles fundraisers face.

"Not enough time to prepare for the 'ask'."

"Our pool of potential new donors are parents with school age children - not the best stage of life to be looking for donations."

"Not enough awareness and advertising."

"Lack of time and, perhaps, tools that are time-efficient, since we are volunteer-driven."

"We're not having the best luck using our board and current donor connections to obtain new donors."

"Lack of resources."

"Targeted strategy and staff capacity to execute."

"We are growing and adding new staff. Getting the infrastructure in place is our obstacle right now."

"The cost and low ROI of traditional methods, such as direct mail."


While it's not surprising that larger fundraising shops have a system for finding new donors, smaller shops could be looking to larger fundraising departments to see what aspects of their approach small shops could emulate to improve their success.

We can also see that a lack of access to tools is a major problem for many nonprofits, as a lack of resources and marketing assets was a commonly cited obstacle. By improving the software tools available to nonprofits (or by convincing upper management to properly invest in fundraising resources), organizations can improve their donor acquisition to keep their mission budgets growing.

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Topics: donor acquisition, donor research

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