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Virtual Acquisition Strategy Forum

Virtual Acquisition Strategy Forum

Earlier this month, several members of our team had the pleasure of attending the virtual DMAW Acquisition Strategy Forum. The forum was informative for anyone interested in developing multi-channel acquisition and covered all aspects of acquisition strategy, including audience development, creative strategy, analytics, and retention.

If you weren’t able to make it, not to worry! Here are some of the main points covered.

Let’s get right down to a topic that rightfully deserves all the attention it receives—what factor is really responsible for bringing in the fundraising dollars? These are the stats:

  • Creative – 20% (copy and design)
  • Offer – 40% (action you are asking them to take)
  • Audience – 40% (people you are targeting)

The reasoning behind these percentages? It’s that even if you have the best creative package imaginable, if it doesn’t reach the right people with the right call to action, it simply will not be successful.

That said, good creative is still important. So much so that it gets a lot of attention from everyone at an organization, all offering their opinions and wanting to be involved. But have you ever heard of “copy by committee”? It just doesn’t work: Too much collaboration and input disrupt focus and damages effectiveness! So, whoever is involved should keep these creative tips in mind:

Must-Have Elements for Acquiring New Donors Through Creative

Irresistible Offer – Beyond the basic offer

  • Identifies a specific problem with a simple solution
  • Premium offer that makes its case right from the start (remember, though, not to focus solely on the premium, as the donor may not be as profitable down the road)

Offer-to-Audience Targeting

Based on:

  • Interest
  • Inclination
  • Intent
  • Means

A Captivating Story ‒ Illuminates the problem and an obvious solution

  • Captivating opening
  • Feel-good or dramatic story
  • Humility

The Donor Benefit — Makes you feel like you changed a life or made the world a better place

The Call to Action — Conveys urgency and the reason for the ask; should be clear and concise

Once your compelling copy is created and approved, it’s on to the design team!

Design is also a strategy—it can be impactful, purposeful, and incredibly powerful. The purpose of design is to deliver the message … everything else is just distracting. Eye-tracking techniques are important in design to ensure that the reader focuses on the main points of the package to motivate them to donate. There are multiple directional cues that can be utilized to deliver the message and get people to donate, including Johnson boxes, circles, highlighting, arrows, margin notes, callouts and much, much more.

Now that the package is ready to dazzle in the mailbox, we need to make sure it’s going to reach the right audience.

Lists, Data & Modeling – The Navigational System That Leads You to Success

So, how do you find the right people to support your worthy cause? There are thousands of various lists available including donor, subscriber, buyer, membership, compiled, co-op, and house lists. As the number of nonprofits continues to grow, the competition is also growing, so we must work harder and smarter to engage prospects and get them to say “yes” and donate. There are several techniques we can employ to help our acquisition program be successful.

To start, we should maximize the merge/purge. How do we do this? First, ensure you are working with a merge/purge vendor who takes the time to understand your data and makes recommendations. Modeling should be part of your merge processing and testing different balance models is important. Know what makes up your suppression file and review and refine it regularly: Too often, organizations or teams have no idea who or why names are on the suppression files. Merge/purge reports provide valuable information to ensure you have the best audience for your campaign, so make sure you are reviewing them, asking questions and truly understanding the data. There are key items on the merge/purge report that should be reviewed:

  • overall campaign dupe rates
  • input counts from suppressions (once again, knowing what’s on your suppression file is key)
  • whether co-ops are matching your suppression file (they shouldn’t be—co-op vendors have your donor file and it should be suppressed when ordered)
  • actual dupe rates compared to forecasted dupe rates
  • list level interaction

We can utilize merge modeling to eliminate the nonperformers. Just like models indicate the best names to mail, models also identify the names that are not likely to respond. This is a useful technique to improve the performance of a campaign by cutting out those low-performing names and mailing less or replacing those names with better names. This technique can also be utilized if you are over on volume and need to remove some names. While you’ll still have to pay for those names, you’ll maximize the best names and save on the printing and postage costs.

Attribution might be a bit of a surprise as a key player in acquisition. We know that direct mail continues to influence online revenue. As more donors continue to become more comfortable giving online, it’s important to understand the baseline relationships between your donors who give both offline and online to allow better insight to the best budget strategy across channels. Being able to identify those who are giving online but had previously received a direct mail piece, or those who give to a mail piece

after seeing an ad or email. These multichannel donors are a valuable asset to your organization and should be treated and engaged with differently than single channel donors. Test both treatments (DM and online) to find out which works better to get the second and subsequent gifts.

Last but not least is lifetime value (LTV), an important and valuable metric in acquisition. LTV can be viewed on various levels, including package and list. On the package level, LTV helps determine the appropriate package mix to maximize results/investment. On the list level, LTV helps identify lists that might have average initial performance but generate valuable donors over the lifetime.

As you can see, there are many different moving parts behind a strategic, successful acquisition campaign. It’s important to do this critical work upfront to make sure you’ll reach like-minded prospects with the right message and call to action. Your mission is worth it!

I hope you find this information to be as helpful and interesting as we did—and that you will go forth and mail masterfully.


More Key Takeaways

  • Spend the most time working on an irresistible offer.
  • Don’t let all the facts get in the way. Statistics can support your case, but they might not be as important as you think.
  • Suppression files should be audited regularly.
  • Know your KPIs (key performance indicators) and stick with them—this varies by nonprofit.
  • Look at the co-ops in your campaign—they should complement each other.
  • Don’t throw in the kitchen sink! Acquisition should be about getting them in the door first and then introducing them to the organization.
  • Long form or short form? Use whatever your “offer” needs to get the point across and get the donation.
  • If you can, test against different audiences (ethnicity, religious/right and left wing)
  • Collaborate as a group! Partner with your vendors and co-ops … you’re a team!
  • Don’t stop acquisition!


Diane Hardy is Vice President, List Services, at National Fundraising Lists and can be reached at (410) 721-5700 ext. 2243 or

Yvette Robichaud is an Account Executive at National Fundraising Lists and can be reached at (410) 721-5700 ext. 2205 or