Many nonprofits want to boost individual giving. But it can be daunting to know where to start.

Luckily there are only three ways you can boost individual giving at your organization. This video will cover what those three growth levers are, and where you should focus given the needs of your nonprofit.

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Video Transcript

Most nonprofits want to boost individual giving, but knowing where to start is typically the challenge. The good news is, there’s really only three growth levers that you can pull to boost your individual giving. Today, we’ll dive into what those three are and help you figure out which one makes the most sense for you to start with given your nonprofit’s situation.

I’m David Hartstein. I’m one of the co-founders here at Wired Impact, and we help nonprofits build the kind of website to propel their mission forward. We’ve worked with hundreds of nonprofits over the last 10 plus years, and most of them were looking to increase their individual giving efforts in some way.

In our experience, typically we see organizations potentially starting too broad, which just makes it much less likely that you’ll ultimately see the results you’re looking for. 

Or they focus solely on attracting new donors to their cause, which leaves a lot of money on the table, because there are two other growth levers that you can use to grow your individual giving.

The nice thing is, again, there’s only those three growth levers to pull, and once you know what they are, it helps primarily in two ways:

  1. The first is it just brings a lot of clarity and focus to how you’re spending your time, which just makes it much more likely you’ll see results.
  2. And the second is it brings this sense of unity to members of your team or your board. It can sort of serve as this rallying cry, get everyone rowing in the same direction, and again, just make it much more likely that you’ll see a boost in your fundraising efforts.

Our Promise

So my promise is, at the end of this short video, you will have a model that you can use to think about these three different growth levers for individual giving, and you’ll know which of those growth levers makes the most sense for you to start with, given your nonprofit situation.

So with that, let me share my screen, and we can jump into the fun stuff.

The 3 Individual Giving Growth Levers

So this is our model for our growth levers, and the first one we’re going to focus on is right over here. I already mentioned it. It’s acquisition.


With acquisition, we’re talking about new donors.

(Hopefully you can read my handwriting. When I told my wife I was going to be doing this, she asked if I was going to take a handwriting class, so hopefully it’s not that bad and you can at least read what I’m writing here.)

Acquisition is the shiny growth lever. It’s the one that everyone starts with. And it makes sense that that’s where you’d start, right? When you’re starting an organization, your parents, your grandparents, your siblings, your friends, they’re only going to float your organization so far. You have to bring new donors into the fold.


But acquisition will only carry you so far. You’re going to hit a growth ceiling unless you start thinking about this second fundraising lever, which is retention. And with retention, we are focused exclusively on our existing donors.

Really, how do we keep those donors engaged? How do we not only build a recurring revenue stream? That’s definitely a big part of it, right? It becomes that foundation that you can grow your organization off of.

But it’s also just about deepening your relationship with your donors. And really, the nice thing about that is it transforms supporting your cause from this transaction into more of a kind of deep, meaningful relationship, which can help you just launch your organization forward.

Then to think about how these two things work together, acquisition and retention, a lot of times I’ll think of the leaky bucket metaphor. Maybe you’ve heard this one before.

Acquisition is pouring water into the bucket. Retention is plugging holes in a leaky bucket. Because if you have a leaky bucket, you’re going to have to add a lot of water because you’re constantly losing water to the holes.

But if you focus some time and attention on plugging those holes, you get a lot more bang for the buck in terms of putting water into that bucket, because it just is going to hold water much, much better.

So thinking of it like that, acquisition being the water that’s going into the bucket, retention being plugging those holes, you can see how giving some time and attention to both ultimately is going to be essential to growing your individual giving efforts.


Now, those are the two that definitely get the most attention, but there’s a third growth lever that gets a lot less glory but is definitely important, and it is called maximization. With maximization, we are talking about the average donation that you receive.

The reason I like to break this one out is, realistically, you could keep your acquisition and retention rates exactly the same. Those could stay totally static. But if you were able to see an increase in average donation, you would be able to boost your individual giving efforts.

And obviously, it does tie into retention. It really comes down to understanding your donors. Maximization is all about, how do your donors prefer to give? How do you tap into larger gifts? How do you invite donors to increase their giving over time as they become more passionate about your cause?

So while there’s definitely some overlap with retention, I still think it’s really useful to break maximization out as a distinct growth lever, because it is really a different way that you can go about growing individual giving.

So these three right here are our three fundraising growth levers, at least as far as individual giving is concerned.

So Where Does Your Nonprofit Start?

So the real question is, where do you start? How do you know which of these is going to be the most high leverage place for you to start boosting your individual giving?

So it’s really going to come down to the nuances of your organization and your supporters, but there’s definitely a general roadmap that you can follow as to where you should be spending your time.

Step 1: Early Donor Acquisition Efforts

Most organizations, like I mentioned before, are typically going to start over here with acquisition. So more often than not, this is going to be number one, the number one place that you start.

It’s important, like we talked about before, to get that immediate traction outside of your intimate network, your friends, your family.

Step 2: Unscalable Donor Retention

But once you’re building some momentum there, that’s when I would recommend jumping over here to retention.

The thing about retention that I think isn’t talked about enough is, in the early days, it is totally okay to do unscalable things.

A lot of folks will talk about how to make retention sustainable, which is important as you scale, but you don’t have to worry about that yet. Honestly, doing unscalable things in the early days can be really, really illuminating and help you figure out how to introduce some scalable pieces of retention down the road, which we’ll talk about in a minute.

The thing that I like to mention is, donor interviews are huge in the early days of retention. Honestly, donor interviews are huge always when it comes to boosting your fundraising, but in these early days of retention, it’s essential that you’re doing donor interviews.

And I push folks to just talk to these early donors about why they decided to support the cause. Ask them other ways that they’d be interested in supporting your mission.

Also, pay really close attention to the language that they’re using. You can actually use their language in your marketing efforts and your acquisition of new donors, because then you’re actually reflecting the language of your donors back to visitors to your website and your marketing efforts more generally. So that can be a really nice way of meeting folks where they’re at.

So we started with acquisition. We jumped over here to retention. A lot of folks would think now it’s time to move down to maximization, but that’s actually not what I recommend at this point.

Step 3: Scaling Donor Acquisition

Now that we’ve started to dial in our retention efforts, I actually recommend you jump back over to acquisition, and now the goal is to attract more total strangers in a scalable way. So here, we’re really looking for how we can scale up our acquisition efforts and do something that is repeatable so that it can become almost the model or the playbook for how you acquire new donors.

The nice thing here is, once you start to dial that in, it becomes something that can scale up, and you can introduce different automated ways of scaling up your acquisition efforts. Now, again, the details are going to be unique to your organization, but the focus at this point is really on scale.

Step 4: Scaling Donor Retention Efforts

Once you have that sort of humming, you’re starting to get those donors that you don’t know, have maybe even never talked to before, coming into the fold, that’s when we’re actually going to jump back over to retention here, and we’re going to bring that eye towards scalability to our retention efforts. So that is step four, is coming back over to retention, but this time we’re looking for how we scale our retention efforts.

The thing I like to mention as sort of a cautionary note is, you don’t want to sacrifice all of those personal touches you were doing in step two here, more of the high touch version of retention. But as you grow, it will be important to look for ways to save time. Otherwise, you’re going to become a bottleneck and ultimately be sort of a cap on what your fundraising is capable of.

So you want to look for opportunities to automate or create templates or get others involved in your retention efforts. Otherwise, it’s all going to fall to you, and that’s just not something that’s going to work long-term.

Step 5: Focus on Donation Maximization

So with that said, once you have both your acquisition and your retention efforts dialed in here, that’s when you’re going to dive down here to maximization. This is when we’re going to start to optimize for average donation size, step five here.

Now, again, a note of caution here. Don’t think of this just as maxing out the amount of money that you can squeeze out of each individual donor, because that can quickly lead to viewing this more as that transactional relationship I talked about before, which in the end will start to really erode your retention efforts, because no one likes feeling like an ATM, right?

So instead, the way I think of it is, with maximization, you’re really inviting donors to get as involved as makes sense for them. You want to present that opportunity, and if it resonates, reduce friction to make it as easy as possible that they do increase their average donation or that they give an amount that they’re comfortable giving in support of your cause.

It’s honestly more about meeting your donors where they’re at and presenting these opportunities to get more involved in supporting your mission.

This hopefully provides some foundation for you to understand how to pull different growth levers and grow your individual giving.

Community-Centric Fundraising

And before we wrap up, I did want to quickly mention the Community-Centric Fundraising movement. If you haven’t heard about the work that CCF is doing, do yourself a favor. Check them out. 

I’ll have some links floating around this video depending on where you’re watching it, but you can also just Google “community centric fundraising.”

Essentially, it’s a model of fundraising that’s just grounded in equity and social justice, and the goal is really to shake up the way that fundraising is done in the nonprofit sector. And they’re building a movement that’s just more inclusive and, at the end of the day, just helps nonprofits more completely serve their community. So definitely check them out. I think you’ll find their work really, really interesting. 

That’s it. I hope that this model is really helpful as you continue doing the work that you do to make the world a better place. 

And I’ll see you next time.