Find the Best New Donor Here

As a nonprofit, you’ll probably be sending out your fall acquisition mailing in the next few months hoping to bring in a lot of new donors to support your cause. I bet you’ll spend countless hours writing and rewriting the letter … and creating the perfect design for your package. But what about your lists? As the saying goes, the best letter in the world mailed to the wrong people will fail. So spending time selecting your prospect lists is actually far more important to the success of your campaign than the copy or the creative. 

Seriously, data trumps design – every time. Here are tips to find the prospect lists that will deliver the most (and highest-quality) new donors to help generate a net profit from your mailing.

There are hundreds of list sources to mail to, but they won’t all yield responsive, generous new donors. The four types of lists you really need to know about are outlined below. These tried-and-true list sources acquired 50,000 new donors last year for Meals on Wheels programs around the country in our Co-op.

1.       Modeled Lists

Modeled lists are just about the best thing out there. That’s not surprising, given that they are built specifically for your organization using your own data. How, you ask? While each modeling company has its own secret sauce, the modeling process is fairly similar. 

In very basic terms, data modeling companies look at your current donors to identify common characteristics like demographics and giving behavior. With that information, the modelers search their own databases to find look-alike prospects who share the same demographics and giving behaviors of your current supporters. Voila! What you get is a very responsive prospect list that’s also likely to generate a nice high average gift for your organization.

2.       Donor Lists

Donor lists are a very close second to modeled lists in terms of generating new donors and income for your organization. Donor lists are comprised of people supporting a specific charity like the Nature Conservancy or the American Heart Association – and there are hundreds of donor lists available through a list broker. You can target the list of a national nonprofit to your local area by zip code. Note: most donor lists require that you rent a minimum of 5,000 prospect names per order.

3.       Buyer and Subscriber Lists

Buyer and subscriber lists, sometimes referred to as “pubs” (short for “publication”) such as Williams & Sonoma Catalog, Forbes Magazine or Consumer Reports are great sources for new donors – if they are targeted correctly. Prospects from these types of lists are not necessarily donors – although they could be. So, you have to be very specific with your selection criteria. Since you’ll be sending these prospects a piece of mail, you’ll want only the people who have responded through direct mail. This select is known as “direct mail sold,” because the person is buying or subscribing through the mail. That selection criteria will greatly increase the responsiveness of a buyer or subscriber type list, because you will be approaching them through direct mail.

If the catalog or publication you’re using tends to skew toward a younger audience, you may also want to add age 55 or 60+ to your selection criteria. The most responsive prospects tend to be 55 years old – or older. You can order buyer or subscriber lists through a list broker. Note: most buyer and subscriber lists require that you rent a minimum of 7,500-10,000 prospect names per order.

4.       Compiled Lists

Compiled lists like INFO USA and Experian are sourced from public data (post office, phone books and real estate) and sometimes overlaid with additional information such as age, income or other indicators. This type of list is easy to get and relatively inexpensive. But that old saying, “sometimes you get what you pay for,” can be true of compiled lists. 

Compiled lists are just people in your community – you don’t know if they have ever donated to a charity, and you don’t know if they like direct mail, so while they are inexpensive, there is likely to be a lower return, as well. If these types of lists are your only list source, you should add age (55+) and income ($50K+) to your selection criteria. While you may think that the age (55+) is too old, or the income ($50K+) too low, our testing has shown that these two criteria generate the strongest return. As a general rule of thumb, the smaller the community, the better a compiled list will perform.