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July 4, 2013

Get Real: How Your Grassroots Organization Can Invest in Acquisition

5844162640_4bd7b0d8eb_zThere’s been a lot of talk in the last few months about investment in fundraising. From Dan Palotta’s TED Talk to CEO Ken Berger’s mysterious musings on Charity Navigator, the fundraising world is abuzz with discussion about overhead, ratios, and investment.

But for the majority of nonprofits out there – maybe even for your organization – this debate appears somewhat theoretical, particularly when it comes to investing in donor acquisition (getting new donors).

There just isn’t the money to hire new staff, engage large fundraising firms, or “invest” in large-scale acquisition.

The vast majority of smaller and mid-sized organizations have just enough to be comfortable and their Boards are loathe to spend hard-earned reserves.

There isn’t $1 million to put in direct mail. No satellite offices that can start street canvassing. Zero capacity to do online advertising or petitions.

What can a grassroots group do to acquire new donors on a small budget?

A lot, actually.  While the scale may be smaller than in multi-million dollar efforts, face-to-face recruiting efforts that come so naturally to grassroots groups can not only be cost effective, they can also build strong relationships that last longer (and have a higher life time value) than more expensive tools.

Here are 4 tried-and-true acquisition models for grassroots groups that don’t take a ton of money to implement:

House Parties:  These are normally small gatherings (up to 50 or so people) where a host brings their friends, family, and network together to introduce them to an organization and its work.  (Note: if you want more specifics on a house party, consult our House Party Guidelines in our Toolbox)

Why do it?  House parties allow the organization to get up close and personal with its prospects and because the host normally asks the attendees to make a donation, the response rate and average gift are high compared to direct marketing methods of acquisition like mail.

What does it take? The most important thing is to recruit a host that is enthusiastic and willing to ask.  A great 7-10 minute presentation is also a must, along with a way to collect names and contact information.

What’s the downside? Donors to a house party often give out of obligation to the host and can be challenging to convert to longer-term donors.

Board Prospecting: Your Board members can serve as connectors to their family members, friends, and professional networks, bringing in new names and contact information for mailings, events, and other forms of communication.

Why do it? Collecting names this way allows you to have close, personal discussions with your prospects with the help of a personal connector.

What does it take?  This method requires Board members who are enthusiastic and well-trained.  Good materials and communications pieces that are easy for Board members to use are a must. At the core of this strategy is a “moves management” system where staff can keep track of next steps in building relationships.

What’s the downside?  This method can produce high quality prospects, but not a lot of volume. After a while, your Board members get tapped out.

Special Events:  From a local 5K walk to a scotch tasting party, special events can be tailored to bring in new donors.

Why do it? Everyone likes a party! A special event can attract donors who would never come in contact with the organization any other way.

What does it take?  The key to a really good special event is being clear about your objectives. If your goal is to get new donors, every part of the event has to be tailored to that goal. A good acquisition event is also well-aligned with the organization’s mission and ethos. Volunteer help is a must-have.

What’s the downside?  Events can be expensive and time consuming for staff with comparatively little return. Results are often hard to determine without strong systems in place for gathering information about attendance and giving.

Tabling:  Whether at your local farmers’ market, music festival, or sports arena, you can set up a table to hand out information, sign up volunteers, and collect contact information. Depending on the venue, you may even be able to take donations.

Why do it? If you pick your venue strategically, you can meet your target donor audience in a cost effective way.

What does it take?  This method requires trained volunteers to man the tables, a good display to draw attention, and a solid system for collecting and storing names and contact information.

What’s the downside? Collecting names and donations in these venues can be challenging so your response rate is much lower than that of a house party.  You might get a fair amount of “junk” contact information and some very small donations.

For any acquisition effort, the most important thing is to have a plan and track your progress to see what works.  Even the most basic database should be able to generate reports to help you determine return on investment from these types of acquisition efforts.

Be sure to include time in your calculations. While these methods may not require big bucks to implement, they do require staff and volunteer time.

Hey grassroots groups, what methods have you been using to get new donors?  And are they working? Please share!


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