Chelsea Alves
Chelsea Alves
10 min
Donor acquisition mistakes

5 Donor Acquisition Mistakes Nonprofits Should Avoid

You must learn from the mistakes of others. You can’t possibly live long enough to make them all yourself. – Sam Levenson

Every nonprofit organization wants to attract more donors. Yet nonprofit organizations, small and large, sometimes make similar mistakes across the industry that turn donors away rather than inspire them to give. Luckily, it’s never too late to learn from mistakes and prevent future pitfalls. In addition to acknowledging your organization’s own missteps, you can also learn from the experiences of others in your sector. After all, why walk down a path proven ineffective by another organization when you can take steps to mitigate your risk and succeed.

Here are five things to avoid in order to grow your donor base and ultimately further your mission.

1. You Have A Lackluster Social Media Presence

A solid social media presence is now a must have for nonprofit organizations. Social media provides an additional opportunity for potential donors to connect with your organization and give to your cause. An active social media presence is so powerful that 59 percent of people who simply follow or like a nonprofit account feel inspired to donate money. With the potential to receive donations from over half your social media followers, there is more incentive than ever to maintain active social media profiles.

Despite the benefits, some nonprofit organizations cite time as a deterrent for participating in social media. But the risks of not having a social media presence can be detrimental. A lack of social media presence can:

  • Be a missed opportunity to nurture supporters
  • Eliminate a chance to secure additional support
  • Upset donors looking to connect with you on these platforms
  • Make your organization seem outdated

Nonprofit organizations who invest their time in social media have found it to be a worthwhile strategy. A recent study by eMarketer found that 71 percent of nonprofits agree social media is at least “somewhat useful” or “very useful.” Additionally, social media is ranked as the second most important communication channel for nonprofits.

Miriam’s Kitchen effectively engages with their supporters through social media. On Twitter they actively retweet and reply to supporter comments to further a dialogue. Because of their strong presence, they have nearly 8,000 people who follow their Twitter account and stay up to date on their programmatic and fundraising efforts.


Miriam's Kitchen Twitter Account

2. You Have Limited Revenue Streams

One of the biggest mistakes some nonprofit organizations make is relying on one source of revenue for fundraising. Because of this, the success of their organization depends on one main initiative such as a yearly gala, major donor, or large grant. This becomes problematic if this source happens to fall through. Without other revenue streams, there is no way to safeguard your organization from uncertainty.

To protect your organization, diversify your revenue streams. Some funding methods your organization may want to explore include:

  • Peer-to-peer fundraising
  • Recurring giving
  • Partnerships/sponsorships
  • Events
  • Corporate giving

Want to see a visual representation of what fundraising efforts your organization focuses on most? Classy’s online fundraising assessment tool can help your organization unearth what potential opportunities you may have overlooked.

3. You Don’t Have Many Partnerships

Effective partnerships aren’t created overnight. As with any type of relationship building, networking plays an essential role. Some organizations struggle to secure partnerships because they feel they lack the time, resources, and connections. Yet strong partnerships are worth the time and energy it takes to develop your network. A good partner increases:

  • Your exposure
  • Your chances of reaching new donors
  • Trust in your organization
  • Your credibility

Partnership relationships aren’t only limited to corporations—they apply to nonprofit partners as well. Two nonprofit organizations that have established a strong partnership are Barbells for Boobs and the Travis Manion Foundation. Both organizations have different missions: Barbells for Boobs supports breast cancer detection while the Travis Manion Foundation supports fallen soldiers and survivors. Yet despite their different missions, they are able to partner to host and promote joint events. Their partnership is mutually beneficial because they are able to gain more exposure and raise more funds at their events.

4. Your Online Donation Platform Isn’t User Friendly

Some nonprofit organizations miss the mark when it comes to website design. Many hesitate to spend the time and resources needed to wow donors in this department, but investing in tools like online donation platforms can quickly take your organization to new heights. With the right software, you can eliminate a lot of heavy lifting on the part of your staff and create pages in a manner of minutes that incorporate the elements needed to rake in the donations.

To solicit as many donations as possible for your organization, be sure your pages include:

  • A bright, bold donation button at the top of your homepage
  • A quick checkout process with as few fields to fill in as possible
  • A simple payment processing system
  • Beautiful images and branded design
  • A field to enter a custom donation amount
Pro Tip
The ability for donors to waive transaction fees brings in even more funds for your organization

The John Wayne Foundation has done an excellent job designing engaging pages that capture the attention of donors. They’ve even woven their social media presence into their donation page by promoting a dedicated hashtag for their latest campaign, #SHOWYOURGRIT.

ShowyourGrit Campaign

5. Your Messaging Isn’t Tailored

When speaking to your supporters, a one-size fits all approach just isn’t as effective. You need to understand what resonates best with your target audience and refine your messaging for the different segments within that audience in order to call them to action.

Take this example into consideration: imagine you recently attended a fundraising event for a nonprofit organization. You had never given to this organization before and attended the event because a friend invited you along. You were interested in learning more about the organization’s work, but then you received an email the very next day requesting that you join their recurring giving program. This hard ask might turn you off to the organization, as you don’t feel informed enough to make a commitment. Had the organization chosen to share photos, videos, or a story about their work, instead of immediately hitting you with an ask, the messaging would have appeared more informed and appropriate.

Segmentation is crucial to ensure the right messages are sent to the right supporters at the right time. This can be accomplished by breaking your audience into smaller groups such as: first-time supporters, third-party supporters, and event attendees. Create content specific to each segment of your supporters to build stronger relationships. Stronger bonds with your organization can lead to a greater number of financial commitments from your donors.


If your nonprofit is guilty of making any of the five mistakes above—fear not, you’re not alone. The key is that you now have the knowledge you need to avoid these pitfalls in the future and walk a more direct path to success.

  • Cortland Jones

    Very informative post, easy read, clear, and insightful. Thank you for sharing! Helpful.

    • Elizabeth Chung

      Thanks for reading, Cortland! Glad you enjoyed.

  • Delilah Jones

    Excellent points made. Working with a non-profit who has never had to go outside for funding has been a challenge, but this post validates everything my team has been recommending to them. Thanks!

    • Elizabeth Chung

      That’s awesome. Thanks for reading and for the comment, Delilah!


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