How you build your donor list is important.

Critical in fact.

Over the last week I’ve seen, heard or had conversation with a half dozen nonprofits about so-called “alternatives” to traditional donor acquisition.

I’ve heard social media is the magic bullet. Using surveys on Facebook and Twitter to capture names, etc. Or capturing more names at events. Using raffles and games of chance to build your list. Asking people to subscribe to your email list or online community, etc.

Yes, all of these ideas are valid means of building a list. But to what end?

The conversations typically follow with, “well, we can build a list like this without spending a lot of money on acquisition, then fundraise to these people. Essentially, we’re building a different kind of donor list.”


You’re building a phone book.

I empathize. I’ve been in your shoes. When I led annual giving for a local children’s hospital, we tried all sorts of ways to add new names to our file. And we added a lot of names.


But most that were acquired outside of a fundraising solicitation process never amounted to much.

That’s because giving is a pattern behavior. If you want to find more donors, the best way to do that is to target people who already donate.

Yes, you are going to pay more to do this than you would by using alternative means. But you’ll get much higher quality names of people who actually give. And who give frequently.

You’ll get more annual income and higher long-term value.

That’s not to say that these alternatives are worthless. They are, however, worth less in the long run.