Growing Your Donor Base: Six Effective Strategies to Try


As a nonprofit, your two major sources of funding come from grants and donations. Therefore, it’s important to grow these revenue sources as much as possible. This means you’ll need to grow your donor base. 

Growing your donor base requires effective fundraising and marketing initiatives. Your nonprofit should come up with a specific strategy that will help you reel in small donors while also retaining your existing supporters. Plus, you’ll need a reliable and comprehensive place to store relevant information about your supporters, both new and old. 

Make sure your customer relationship management (CRM) is up for the job! CharityEngine’s nonprofit CRM guide discusses the importance of ensuring your technology supports the entire donor journey, from the time they first engage with your organization throughout the relationship. It all starts with effective acquisition strategies. 

Luckily, we’ve developed a list of strategies that will help you do just that: grow your donor base so that you’re ready for the next step: nurturing the relationship. In this guide, we’ll discuss: 

  1. Ensuring sound donor retention before jumping into acquisition strategies. 
  2. Launching a peer-to-peer fundraising campaign. 
  3. Branding and selling merchandise to your supporters. 
  4. Staying active on your nonprofit’s social media accounts. 
  5. Hosting community events for localized outreach. 
  6. Welcoming your new donors. 

Remember, growing your donor base is a cycle. You need to make sure that you’re not losing your current donors while also acquiring new supporters, then retaining them as well. You need to strike a balance, which brings us to our first strategy: ensuring sound retention.


1. First, make sure your nonprofit has sound donor retention.

It can be helpful to think of your donor database like a leaking bucket. If the leak is too bad, no matter how many donors your nonprofit acquires, it will be difficult to grow and fill the bucket. However, some leaking is natural. The goal is to keep it as minimal as possible with donor retention strategies. 

Building relationships with those who fund your organization (both donors and grantmakers) is key to establishing a consistent revenue stream. 

Not only does a higher retention rate ensure you have consistent funding, but it also helps your nonprofit steward larger donations. It’s rare that you’ll receive a major gift from the “kind stranger.” Instead, larger donations tend to come from your donors who started giving small amounts, but increased their donation over time as they developed a relationship with your nonprofit.

As you work to acquire new donors, make sure you’re not losing your existing ones through the leaks in your bucket. Before you start focusing on retention: 

  • Take inventory of your current donor retention rate.
  • Create strategies to ensure an ever-improving retention rate. 
  • Keep these retention strategies in mind to strike a balance between acquisition and retention. 

Encourage higher donor retention by providing plenty of opportunities for donors to get involved with your organization. From events to donations to volunteering make sure your supporters have a variety of opportunities to help your nonprofit succeed.


2. Launch a peer-to-peer fundraising campaign.

Peer-to-peer fundraising is a great way to raise money while also expanding your donor base. This fundraising opportunity leverages the relationships your supporters have on social networking sites (or email) in order to get the word out about your campaign. 

Here’s how it works: 

  • Your nonprofit designs a core fundraising campaign page with your goal and mission included as well as your intentions for the money raised. 
  • Your nonprofit recruits supporters to create their own campaign pages. These pages should include your nonprofit’s branding such as your logo and mission, but also be personalized with each fundraiser’s connection to your mission.
  • These fundraisers share their personalized campaign pages and raise money on behalf of your nonprofit.  
  • Information from these new donors is saved in your donor database. You can then reach out to them at a later date to get them more involved with your mission. 

With the right fundraising platform, you can streamline the data collection process. Make sure you have a system integrated with your CRM for the immediate transfer of data from your peer-to-peer campaign pages to individual donor profiles.


3. Brand and sell merchandise to your supporters. 

When your nonprofit brands merchandise, such as t-shirts, the supporters who purchase and sport such products become like walking billboards for your organization. They’re showing off your brand everywhere they go! Consider the following situation: 

Your current supporter, Tommy, buys a t-shirt from your latest nonprofit event. Tommy thought the shirt looked cool and the money went to a good cause that he feels connected to, so why not show support? 

Tommy wears his new t-shirt to the local coffee house the next morning where he meets up with his friends Susie and Darryl. They ask about the shirt and where he got it. After Tommy explains your nonprofit’s mission and the fun event from the day before, Susie and Darryl decide they also want to get involved. They go home from the coffee shop and look up your nonprofit online. 

As you can see, customized merchandise can be quite the conversation starter. It opens up the opportunity for current supporters to explain your mission to others. 

Make sure that any merchandise you sell is quality and clearly represents your nonprofit. T-shirt companies like Bonfire help nonprofits customize merchandise to sell. They’ll even provide a platform for you to sell online or allow organizations to buy in bulk to sell online in their nonprofit e-commerce store. 


4. Stay active on your nonprofit’s social media accounts.

Social media is a great platform that helps nonprofits create and distribute content and reach new audiences. However, it requires an understanding of how your organization can leverage each platform effectively and efficiently. 

Each social media platform has slightly different functionality, so individual strategies for each will help your nonprofit with its outreach. Consider the following platforms: 

  • Facebook. Facebook provides a platform for long-winded posts including images, videos, and/or text. You can provide extensive context about your organization’s mission in order to pull at people’s heartstrings. You also have the opportunity to invest in Facebook ads that will target individuals most likely to take an interest in your nonprofit. 
  • Instagram. Instagram primarily provides a platform for your nonprofit to post images. You can use Instagram posts or stories to showcase your latest event images or fundraising t-shirts to encourage involvement in campaigns. You can also post images of those your organization helps to encourage empathy from the audience. 
  • Twitter. Twitter is a mostly text-based platform, but also allows for images, surveys, and links to be shared with followers. You may use Twitter to repost a news article pertaining to your organization’s mission. Or, you can use Twitter to highlight your current supporters. Tagging their handle will encourage their friends to view the post and get involved with your nonprofit. 

Simply keeping an active account is a great start, but you’ll see involvement from new donors if you work to make sure the quality of the content you post is exceptional. Don’t forget to link to your social media pages from your website in order to capture website visitors as potential leads.


5. Host community events for localized outreach. 

Small to mid-sized organizations and those with localized chapters see a great benefit from hosting local events in order to reach out to new supporters in the community. 

Check your CRM to see where the majority of your support comes from geographically. If your local support could be improved, try hosting an event that the entire community will enjoy. 

Some popular events you might consider hosting in order to attract community members include: 

  • Races or fun runs
  • Carnivals
  • Concerts
  • Picnics
  • Book sales
  • Bingo or poker nights

Did we mention these events will also help your organization raise money? In addition to reaching new audiences, you’ll be able to fundraise, hitting two birds with one stone!

No matter which type of event you choose to host, be sure you have the technology to support it. Articles like this one name some popular and effective software that can help your event succeed. 

It’s best to have a solution where the registration data flows directly into your CRM. This way, you can focus on ensuring the event itself is fun and successful rather than transferring data from one solution to another.


6. Welcome your new donors.

When new donors are added to your nonprofit CRM, make sure they feel welcomed by your organization. This will help you retain them longer so that you can grow when you acquire even more supporters!

Some of the ways you might welcome your donors include: 

  • Thanking them for their engagement. If they attended your event, participated in your peer-to-peer fundraising campaign, or purchased a t-shirt, make sure you give them a proper thank you
  • Setting up a “welcome” email series. If you have the next action in mind that you want your supporters to complete, like signing up for your next event or submitting an online donation, make sure your email series leads them in that direction. 
  • Offer additional opportunities for involvement. Whether it’s online resources for research regarding your organization or an invitation to sign your nonprofit’s petition, make sure your supporters have new ways to get involved. 

One of the best ways you can kick off your relationship with supporters is to ensure your communications with them are personalized. 

If you start with a letter template, that’s ok! Templates are actually great to ensure you include all of the vital information that supporters are looking for. However, make sure to take the next step in personalization. 

Use the recipient’s preferred name to address them in messages. Also, be sure to segment your supporters so that you discuss each individual’s interests and encourage them to engage more deeply with your nonprofit. 

By personalizing your outreach, your new supporters will feel more welcomed by your organization and are more likely to give again in the future. 

Donor acquisition is necessary for organizational growth. However, it’s also important to strike a balance between acquisition and retention in order to close the leaks in your nonprofit CRM. By creating a well-rounded strategy, your nonprofit will grow your donor base exponentially and gain more exposure in the community. Good luck!