Donor Acquisition – Ways To Acquire New Donors, Staff Turnover and Resources

100 Donors in 90 Days Action GuidesIn week 10 of 100 Donors in 90 Days, Ken Burnett shares his expertise in Donor Acquisition. His early days included helping innovate Greenpeace’s now standard use of young people encouraging other people to give in public places. Since then, he has written books and helped many organizations understand the importance, the cost effectiveness and the range of ways to acquire new donors. While the lengthy seventeen page accompanying Action Guide offers many concrete ways for organizations to find many more than 100 donors, this piece will focus in on two of his ideas that are not specific to donor retention but can have a huge effect on the success of a nonprofit.

Time Paradox

“Fundraisers tend not to stay in posts long enough to make a difference. Laying a long-term fundraising strategy takes several years and it is almost impossible if the people who are charged with putting that strategy into place don’t stay in post longer than what is the current average, which is less than eighteen months in North America right now.”

What struck me about this idea, is ironically why turnover is so high in so many organizations.

Consider the standard situation. A nonprofit hires a development professional who comes in making assurances that he/she can help the organization find stability, increase annual appeal revenue, create an endowment or something similar. They have a proven track record and great references. It takes a bit of time to understand the ins and outs of the organization and meet the major donors and the board. Finally, a plan is in place and the real work starts.

Before you know, it’s been a year and it’s review time! Of course, the results are not yet as everyone hoped. The Development person feels under-appreciated for all the hard work, planning, volunteer recruiting, etc. and starts to look for a new job. Within the next six months he/she finds something else and is off to the next place hoping to be in a better situation. The next person hired comes in, takes a few months to figure out the lay of the land and alter the plan to their strengths and the cycle continues.

How can this problematic structure change? If an interviewee were honest and said it would take two or more years to gain financial stability and many more resources than are currently available—staff, software, CEO and Board members time for the ideal development agenda—then, the organization would probably hire someone else who had a short-term idea to raise more funds.

Maybe new director level hires should have a three-year contract with benchmarks to show progress and to prove the path is right path for that organization. Maybe there has to be more transparency in the successes and failures of a plan.

That leads to the second highlight of Ken Burnett’s piece that you should know about.

Ken’s aforementioned Action Guide includes a page of resources that he thinks are valuable for those who want to focus on Donor Acquisition. But there is one that he also mentions in his talk named, Showcase of Fundraising Innovation and Inspiration (SOFII). It is a place for fundraisers to share their ideas and learn from each other. For more information visit

And please, let me know what valuable information you find! Idea exchanges are invaluable to anyone who wants to continue to grow and learn.

To read other pieces in the series on my learnings from 100 Donors in 90 Days, click here

To purchase your own copy of 100 Donors in 90 Days, click here.