How not to expand your donorbase

Mission Paradox Blog points out a challenge many arts organizations have: Expanding the audience. Read Low hanging fruit.

My own policy is to spend 80% of my time and resources going after folks who are already “cultural consumers”. I want people who are at least comfortable with the idea of going to plays, opera, etc. on a semi-regular basis. Getting those people to choose my day job’s work is challenging enough.

Then I spend 20% of my time building new audience. I do this with the full knowledge that those efforts may take years to pay off.

There’s a similar challenge in fundraising. Many organizations put huge amounts of resources and time into bringing new classes of donors on board.

Very often, the sought-after new donor group is cool people in their twenties like the ones most of the staff hangs out with. Sometimes it’s people living outside the community where the organization works. It might be people outside other demographic or psychographic profiles that are dominant among donors.

Your chance of success with these new groups is dramatically lower than it is with your core donor groups and people like them. It’s going to cost more to find them, and you are going to fail a lot more often when you try.

That’s not to say you shouldn’t work to expand your donorbase. Just know the risk. Balance your budgets, time, and opportunities so you’re delivering a good level of revenue at an acceptable ROI.

If you’re seeking younger donors, look for those who are only slightly younger than the donors you have. If you want to expand geographically, go regional before you go national. If you want to broaden demographic, try the near-matches first.

The further away you get from the audience you have, the harder, less certain. and more expensive it gets.


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The future of fundraising is not about social media, online video, or SEM. It’s not about any technology, medium, or technique. It’s about donors. If you need to raise funds from donors, you need to study them, respect them, and build everything you do around them. And the future? It’s already here. More.

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Jeff BrooksJeff Brooks has been serving the nonprofit community for more than 35 years and blogging about it since 2005. He considers fundraising the most noble of pursuits and hopes you’ll join him in that opinion. You can reach him at jeff [at] jeff-brooks [dot] com. More.


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The future of fundraising is not about social media, online video, or SEM. It’s not about any technology, medium, or technique. It’s about donors. If you need to raise funds from donors, you need to study them, respect them, and build everything you do around them. And the future? It’s already here. More.

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Jeff Brooks has been serving the nonprofit community for more than 30 years and blogging about it since 2005. He considers fundraising the most noble of pursuits and hopes you’ll join him in that opinion. You can reach him at jeff [at] jeff-brooks [dot] com.

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