Survey Report Perspectives: Larger Nonprofits Balance Donor Acquisition with Repeat Support

October 7, 2021 | Grace Duginski

Nonprofits have witnessed and responded to a long list of events and opportunities over the past couple of years. Sometimes, it’s seemed like the only constant has been change. Because we know many nonprofits are now re-evaluating their strategic plans and priorities for the future, we surveyed Digital and Development professionals from select nonprofits to understand their priorities over the next several years and discover more ways to meet their needs. One of our top-line findings? Most respondents reported their top priority for increasing engagement was list growth and supporter acquisition—but the story gets more interesting when we dig in by organization size. Let’s dive in.

The Question

The first question we posed to our audience was about their top priority for fundraising and engagement in the near future.

Over the next 3-5 years, our nonprofit’s top priority for fundraising and digital supporter engagement is:

A. Converting one-time supporters into sustainers/repeat supporters
B. Growing our list/acquiring new supporters
C. Increasing the value of existing supporters
D. Retaining our current supporters

We hypothesized that organizations’ needs would vary by size. Respondents fell into these 3 categories:

  1.  Small (annual revenue of up to $1 million)
  2. Medium (annual revenue of $1-10 million)
  3. Large (annual revenue above $10 million)

The Answer

Overall responses to survey question 1 — these answers get interesting when we drill down by organization size.

Taking all answers into consideration, most respondents said their top priority for the next 3-5 years was supporter acquisition — 50 percent chose that option. However, the second most popular priority, at 20 percent of responses, was converting one-time support into repeat support. It’s understandable why organizations would want to focus on list growth and supporter acquisition, since it creates opportunities to raise more money and advance their mission; and their second most popular choice shows a desire to build on existing connections and create deeper, longer relationships with supporters.

Growth vs. Retention: Answers by Organization Size

Although the overall response is compelling, organizations of different sizes tended to report different priorities. When we drilled down by annual revenue segment, we noticed a trend: the larger the organization, the less priority they gave to donor acquisition, and the more priority they gave to supporter retention.

With 68 percent of small organizations reporting their top priority was supporter acquisition, these respondents showed a clear tendency to be the segment most focused on growth. Medium and large organizations, on the other hand, let us know with their top 2 responses that they were balancing their focus on growth with their desire to optimize the supporter relationships they had already established. Of the medium-sized respondents, 46 percent said their top priority was growth, while 22 percent chose converting one-time support into repeat support; and of the large organizations, 39 percent reported donor acquisition was their top priority and 27 percent said converting one-time support into repeat support was at the top of their list.

Although many medium and large organizations stated that growth and acquisition were their top priorities, over half gave responses that reflected their prioritization of existing donor cultivation and retention. Of the medium organizations, 54 percent indicated that their top priority was either converting one-time supporters into repeat supporters, increasing the value of existing supporters, or retaining current supporters; and for large organizations, that number was 61 percent. We know that donor retention has been a challenge for many nonprofits: although the Fundraising Effectiveness Project noted a 1 percent increase in donor retention for the first quarter of 2021 after 15 long years of decreases, The Agitator has called this the issue of “the vanishing American donor.” One strategy to increase donor retention that experts across the nonprofit community have recommended is sustainer programs — with their ability to attract donors across generations and their ease of access, recurring donor programs are becoming more and more important to nonprofits of all sizes as they prioritize retention.

Strong strategies for these kinds of retention and optimization goals require effective personalization, targeting, and segmentation, and these practices can act as strong pillars of your overall digital strategy. Additionally, powering your segmentation with predictive analytics helps ensure that you can efficiently and effectively target the right supporters with the right campaigns for retention, renewal, and upgrades, all at the time that’s right for them.

To read more of our findings, download our complete Survey Report — and to learn more about how the right platform can support your own organization’s acquisition and retention goals, this year and into the future, talk to us.