Every nonprofit organization wants one thing: more donors. But with all the noise competing for today’s cause-minded constituent, where do you find them?

The good news is that new technologies have created more avenues to find donors than ever before, and when combined with traditional acquisition methods, they create a powerful presence to engage new supporters.

Below are five ways to build a donor list, no matter your organization’s size or budget.


Some organizations, especially “legacy organizations” that have been around for decades, rely almost solely on this traditional method of donor acquisition.  While paper is not ideal in terms of cost, it can still be a valuable option, depending on your budget and audience.

On average, it costs about $100 per new paper donor who gives $35 and has a 50 percent rate of sticking around.  Based on those numbers, the cost and time it will take to build a new list of 50,000 donors or more is pretty daunting.  Still, if you have a good list, and if your donors are used to being asked via paper, this list is worth cultivating.

For older audiences, paper can still be a worthwhile source of acquisition if you have the budget for it. However, while paper still works today, you should always be preparing for the future, with the understanding that middle-aged and young donors are communicating almost exclusively through email and text. Continue your paper strategy if it’s working, but always look for opportunities to begin moving people to email.


A recent report from Ascend2 shared that 67 percent of businesses surveyed said their email list growth is “very important” to the overall success of their marketing program.  In fact, half of the companies surveyed said that increasing their email list size is one of their most important objectives, ranking as the third-leading overall priority.

That isn’t just true for business.  A couple years ago, I gave a presentation at the Christian Leadership Alliance conference about paper campaigns that showed significantly improved results when accompanied by email, as well as email campaigns that showed improvement when the email was run side-by-side with paper. Both do better when run together!

Look for opportunities to capture emails every chance you get (advertising, events, you name it!) and then cultivate that list wisely. Where people expect to be asked via paper, constituents on your email list are often more invested, as they have opted in to receive communications from you. Your emails should be a mix of storytelling and direct asks, and all paper campaigns should have a corresponding email blast. Be sure to segment lists by people who have given and people who have never given, so you can use appropriate language for a cultivation vs. acquisition relationship.


With mobile devices now ubiquitous, you can communicate with potential donors wherever they are. Building a text database can now be equally as effective, if not more so, than building an email database. You can use some of the same principles of email collection to collect cell phone numbers. Offer free downloads, newsletters or resource content, such as daily devotionals. It’s also important to offer a mobile donation option at any services or events, as most people no longer carry cash or checks. A service like Textify makes it easy to do both!


Visiting a website is like window shopping, and yours should have compelling content that invites people to come in and look around. Use your home page, blog and other dynamic media sections to tell your story, with a soft call-to-action at the end. You can also post immediate and urgent needs with stronger asks when appropriate. And always include an email sign up! Don’t bury the sign-up option five clicks in. Ask people to sign up to hear from you (you can use free downloads or special exclusive content to incentivize them), and then cultivate them to become givers. 

Social Media

Social media tends to be a more conversational medium, and people will get turned off if you ask too much, but it’s still a great place to start building a donor list. Social media allows you to post more frequent updates and tell your story in small, easy-to-digest pieces. Make it easy for people who are compelled by what you share to get involved. Include a donate tab on your page and always try to push people back to your email sign up through invitations, contests, free downloads or other incentives. Once they’ve showed interest by signing up for email notifications, you can begin asking them to give. 

With multiple avenues for reaching new audiences, it’s easier and more cost-effective than ever to build a donor list. Utilize a combination of these powerful tools to find donors of all ages, no matter your budget.

Digital Growth Strategies