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3 Misconceptions about Supporter Acquisition

By December 9, 2020

Every nonprofit knows that in order to grow — or, in the case of a turbulent year like this one — in order to stabilize and move forward, you need to attract and engage a steady stream of new supporters. But what that actually looks like can be a little hard to define. It can also be difficult to identify what you’re doing right, and where you might be getting a little off track. 

When it comes to supporter acquisition, it’s common to start out by thinking about donors, and that’s not a bad thing, but it can obscure the fact that when you’re first reaching out to a new audience of potential supporters, it’s impossible to identify the kind of supporter they’ll be. And if you’re only looking for donors, you could narrow your search more than you’d like. 

So today we’re unpacking three simple misconceptions about supporter acquisition, to help demystify this first stage of the supporter journey.

magnifying glass being held up to a computer screen
Unpacking misconceptions around supporter acquisition.

1. Acquisition Starts Once You Have Their Email Address

This one’s a popular one. It’s easy to believe that once you have a supporter’s email address, you can begin the process of engaging them. It sounds right, right? But, your supporters are likely to have interacted with your organization at least once before signing up. Maybe they took a look at your website after a Google search. Or maybe a friend told them to check out one of your volunteer opportunities. Perhaps they spotted an ad on their social media feed. No matter how they come to you, giving you their email address isn’t your first opportunity to engage them — all those prior moments are.

This is why we talk a lot about the supporter journey. The idea is that no matter which stage of the journey your new prospective supporter is in, you’re creating extraordinary experiences that will help them get to know you.

But how do you do that when you don’t have their email address? This is where understanding your audience comes in. With an audience segmentation tool, you can start to identify the traits that your best supporters have in common. And once you have those traits — for example, maybe they’re runners, or millennials, or have young families — you can start to look for similar audiences that share common traits with your best supporters.

Perhaps you’re going to target your advertising to runners in the metro area of your major city. Or maybe you’re going to partner with companies that recruit young professionals, or even invest in advertising on parenting forums.

Ultimately, you’ll target all three of those groups with slightly different content. Segmenting your audience this way gives you a stronger understanding of the things that drive them, enabling you to use that information to create experiences that feel personalized and connected before you even get an email address. 


2. You Only Need to Acquire Donors

This is a common misconception that seems a little hard to wrap your head around at first. Of course nonprofits need to acquire donors! But what is a donor before they donate? And how do you identify those who *might* donate? Or volunteer? Or donate and volunteer! Donors are important to acquire, but before they donate, they’re either supporters or potential supporters. Appealing to them as such will create a stronger pull for your organization than just appealing to donors will.

Another piece of this puzzle is understanding how your supporters want to be engaged. Supporter expectations have been heavily influenced by the on-demand, personalized, customized nature of the things we consume in our personal lives. For-profit brands have made it easy for all of us to be recognized, known, and remembered, and for many of us, that’s become part of the way we navigate the world.

So while it’s important to attract donors, it’s also important to remember that until they get to know you a little bit, donors are supporters who want to be known, recognized, and remembered. Some of them will become donors, but it’s important to make sure every supporter feels valued — beginning with their very first interaction with your organization.


Person making a mobile donation
Before your donors donated, they were supporters.

3. It’s Important to Make the Ask for Donations as Quickly as Possible After Acquiring a New Supporter

This can get a little tricky, especially around the holidays. There’s no hard and fast rule, and in many cases it’s really important to make the appeal regardless. But when you’re mapping out your supporter journeys, this is a pattern to pay attention to.

Potential supporters might still be new to your organization, or maybe they’ve been registered for years but have never given before. Either way, it’s likely that you’ll need to engage these people before you can get them to the point of donation. When we talk about “nurtures” in marketing, it’s almost always about this concept: getting someone to the point where they’re ready and willing to take a specific action.

Nurtures are usually run through email-based campaigns, so for nonprofits this is a great way to think about things like your welcome campaign, or your holiday donation drive for new supporters. A nurture is designed to help individuals get to know, understand, and get benefit from engaging with your organization, in order to warm them up for your appeal.

Something that’s worth thinking about is how you can make your campaigns more like nurture campaigns — especially when you know you’re targeting new supporters who are still getting to know you, and you’ve got a specific goal in mind like Giving Tuesday.

It’s also important to have a method of identifying your repeat donors. Not just the ones who donate huge sums, but also the ones who consistently donate less than $100, and those who’ve been regular donors for years. Those small amounts add up, and some nonprofits have found that they have more repeat donors than they ever thought possible.

So why is it that we need to know who the repeat donors are if we’re not asking for donations right away? Well when you DO ask for donations, part of making sure your donors feel valued is acknowledging when they’ve donated in the past. This might mean tweaking your appeal a little bit to let them know how much their previous donations mattered and how their continued support has benefitted the organization. 

Download our Creating Constituent Journeys Guide to learn more about how to target and engage new and existing supporters.

About the Author

Lautel is a Product Marketing Manager at on the Nonprofit Marketing and Engagement Team. In her spare time, she likes reading, listening to dance music, and studying Japanese.