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New Donor Acquisition Strategies

Jan 2024 - READ IN 5 MINUTES

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How to Attract New Donors in the New Year

Donor acquisition is hard. Acquiring new donors requires resources, can distract from donor retention efforts, and may leave you feeling as though you only have a limited number of shots to succeed.

But, this essential component of your fundraising strategy doesn’t need to feel like pulling teeth. Let’s flip this often arduous undertaking on its head and consider the benefits of tackling donor acquisition.

At the very least, it encourages you to test out new tactics that you may not have tried with your existing donors. These constituents have yet to donate, so you’ll need to think outside the box to convert them. Additionally, a new donor could be your next major donor. A donor likely won’t make a big gift until they’ve made a first gift—even if it’s a small one. You never know if someone’s five-dollar donation today could one day become a five-figure gift.  Finally, donor stewardship opportunities abound with new donors. You’ve yet to use any stewarding messages on them, so you can use anything from your existing stewardship repertoire or develop new targeted messaging.

Despite knowing the pros of donor acquisition, it can still feel frustrating to go after prospective donors. But, with a little creativity and intentional effort, you can develop effective donor acquisition strategies that help raise more dollars from more donors. Below, you’ll learn some key ways to level up your acquisition efforts and ultimately achieve your new donor fundraising goals.

Define Your Target Audiences

When approaching donor acquisition, it can be helpful to zero in on a specific segment of prospective donors. Consider any gaps in your existing donor base that you want to address. Are young alumni well represented? What about current students? Look to any information in your donor database or CRM that you already have on prospective donors. Are there any noticeable trends in the demographic make-up of “never donors?”

While you don’t need to limit yourself to a single donor persona in your acquisition efforts, you may decide to segment your messaging and campaigns for different sub-audiences. For example, constituents who have been sent appeals but never converted may need a different outreach strategy than a prospective donor who has never been contacted.

Reframe How You Talk About Educational Fundraising

While some potential donors may be unaware of your initiatives, others may have negative notions about educational fundraising. They may feel that schools don’t need their support when tuition costs are so high. Especially in recent years, there has been a drop in trust when it comes to higher-ed institutions.

It’s our job as fundraisers to help educate our constituents on how institutional funding works—from how the annual fund is structured to the difference between restricted and unrestricted giving.

It’s also important to talk about education as a noble cause. Young alumni in particular want to give towards initiatives they believe will have a true impact on the world. They want to know exactly how their donations are used and who is benefiting. Rather than put your institution at the forefront of your outreach, make the beneficiaries—the students—your main focus.


One additional consideration when it comes to your messaging is emphasizing participation over total dollars donated. Young alumni and other prospective donors may feel discouraged about making a gift if they’re not able to donate a significant amount. Highlighting that even a $5 donation can go a long way helps make participating feel more accessible to all of your donor segments.

Focus on Building Donor Relationships

“My alma mater only calls me when they need money.”

No one likes feeling used. When planning your donor communications consider the 80/20 rule. Eighty percent of your efforts should focus on building donor relationships and the remaining 20 percent should relate to fundraising asks. The more effort you put into cultivating these relationships and building donor trust, the lighter the lift when it comes time to make an appeal.

So what are some ways to engage prospective donors without making an appeal? To start, you can highlight the impact previous gifts have made. You may also work with your alumni relations team to put together an alumni newsletter, showcasing some of the achievements of former students.

Events like reunions and homecomings are also great opportunities for donors to reconnect with their classmates and institutions. In-person events help remind alumni of the sense of acceptance and belonging they may have felt at their school–a feeling they may wish to rekindle and share with others. Nostalgia can be a powerful motivator down the line when it comes to seeking a donation.

Get Creative With Your Outreach

Find creative ways to attract attention to your campaign using multiple communication channels to get more eyes on your cause. Take a multi-channel marketing approach to your outreach leveraging social media, email marketing, direct mail, and more to get the word out about your campaign. You want to meet your different audiences where they are at. For young alumni that can mean texting, Instagram, and Tik Tok. Millennials may still respond to social media campaigns but likely are on other platforms like LinkedIn. Older generations might be more receptive to direct mail campaigns or phonathons.

Learn how to create a Social Media Toolkit for Your Next Campaign

When crafting your messaging, consider the different emotional appeals that could inspire your different donor segments to act. As mentioned above, a sense of nostalgia and community can be powerful tools when speaking with alumni.

Shy away from using the same tried-and-true campaign themes when targeting new donors. Feel empowered to think outside the box during brainstorming sessions, putting practical elements like budget and capacity on pause until the later stages of planning. Some starting points you might consider are:

  • Fun Holidays (e.g. National Pet Day, National Cookie Day)
  • Quirky things about your school or community
  • Specific traditions or milestones about your institution
  • Trending pop-culture moments

If you’re drawing a complete creative blank, you might consider asking AI for a little help. Generative AI tools can be a great assistant to your kick-off brainstorming session.

Beginners Guide: AI Prompts for Fundraisers

Make Online Giving Quick and Easy

It’s no secret that people’s attention spans are shortening and they have a low tolerance for clunky technology. Once you’ve succeeded in getting a prospective donor on your giving form or social fundraising campaign, it is critical you make their giving experience as frictionless as possible. This may be the first time they’ve landed on a donation form for your institution and you want to leave a good impression.

So, what makes a great giving experience? Short. Easy. Accessible. Consider these three things as the guiding principles when creating your online giving funnel. Reduce the number of required fields on your pre-donation form and consider pre-filling in contact details for donors already in your database.

Especially if you are targeting young alumni and students, be sure to offer digital wallet payment options. In addition to saving time, digital wallets have proven to be the payment method of choice among younger generations.

Your goal is to make giving a gift as quick and painless as possible. If a donor does fail to finish filling out the giving form, there’s always an opportunity to nudge them back in the right direction.

Get more giving form optimization tips from our interactive giving form


While donor acquisition may seem challenging, it offers valuable opportunities for growth and impact. Lean into the opportunity to test new tactics and get creative with your outreach—you never know, a new donor campaign could uncover your next major donor. Be sure to emphasize participation over total dollars given and make online giving as quick and seamless as possible.

Beyond the tips above, being equipped with the right solutions can set you up for success. From crowdfunding campaigns to building complex donor events, the GiveCampus platform offers solutions for every step of the fundraising lifecycle. To learn more about how GiveCampus can help you acquire new donors and keep your current donors coming back, schedule a call with a fundraising expert.


Talk to a Fundraising Expert

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