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Strategic Planning

Stewarding Your Acquisition Program Beyond the

COVID-19 Crisis
Allison Porter
Credit: Getty Images, Evgeniia Siiankovskaia

Much of the early

pandemic has been
reactionary, and
understandably so. In
response to seismic
social and economic
shifts, nonprofits have
pivoted rapidly with
budget adjustments and program changes
that speak to this unprecedented context.
While individual giving has been stable
or even thriving, organizations are still
managing significant disruptions to other
sources of earned income. Simultaneously,
many of these disrupted streams were also
sources of new donors that have shrunk
considerably or completely dried up.
These challenges will persist into 2021;
however, the sector now has enough
information to shift into a more proactive
mode. Not only is it possible to plan for
these changes, but as nonprofits manage
adjustments to acquisition patterns, there
may also be an opportunity to maximize information will be critical for determining straightforward. You should investigate now
the current situation if there is a surplus, how to stabilize and grow your donor to understand who those new donors are,
or conversely, to mitigate shortfalls and program moving forward. whether they joined before or during the
prevent negative impacts down the road. For nonprofits with in-person acquisition pandemic and whether they have continued
To get started, ask the following patterns (on-site, ticket buyers, events, to engage with your organization.
questions: When you track your canvassing), COVID-19 has fundamentally On another trajectory, organizations with
organization’s 2020 new joins, do you see shifted the flow of prospects. Some outdoor properties, direct service nonprofits
top-line growth, is there a downward trend of these organizations are seeing a and some advocacy groups are experiencing
or are they flat? More importantly, do you predictable decrease, and others look flat an unusually strong acquisition year. This is
know when and why your new donors gave due to a banner first quarter before the due to new donors experiencing outdoor
their first gift? And how have they engaged pandemic began. For those looking flat, it offerings or channeling frustration and
with your organization since then? This is crucial to recall that “no change” is not compassion into philanthropy for the

Be deliberate in forecasting a range for key variables, like second gift rate. Then assess the impact of
those variables on next year’s budget and project accordingly. This will be particularly important for
renewal budgets, but it will also help you budget appeal and other upgrade programs.

Credit: Getty Images, SDI Productions
first time. The traditional worry for these revenue is unrecoverable. In
programs is that second gift rates will all of these cases, it may make
plummet due to decreased urgency or sense to temporarily reallocate
demand. There is good news, however; other expense budgets toward
COVID-19 donors already appear to be functional acquisition channels.
making second gifts and more. This deepens No one has a crystal ball,
their engagement with your organization of course, but there are
and differs from the behavior of 9/11 and substantive ways to mitigate
2008-recession donors, many of whom the uncertainty of this difficult
never made a second gift. time. The most important is to
For both groups, the key to moving move beyond the reactive state
through the COVID-19 economy and of early COVID-19 fundraising
stewarding new joins is to look beyond top- and into a proactive, strategic
line numbers. They just don’t tell us enough. On a positive note, many organizations approach. Look beyond top-line
First, you must keep your finger on the have strategic opportunities to expand numbers, plan beyond the current budget
pulse of your new joins. Segment your new join activities even now. Nonprofits cycle and keep your eye on the prize of
renewal and appeal files proactively to experiencing an acquisition lift should a thriving donor pipeline that fuels your
better understand them. And if you don’t leverage their strong results through mission for years to come.
have one already, set up a fundraising increased investment. Nonprofits that have
dashboard that you check regularly. Key had in-person acquisition slowed should Allison Porter is the president and co-founder of
performance indicators right now are consider expanding in other channels that Avalon Consulting Group. Connect with Allison via
second gift rates and campaign metrics are accessible and working. And nonprofits email at Visit www.
versus history. Looking at quarter-over- that cut direct mail acquisition can reinstate for more information on how Avalon
quarter metrics by donor type (new joins, those programs before long-term lost can help you meet your fundraising goals.
first-year donors, multi-year donors,
five-plus-year members and reinstates) is
also critical in tracking your changing file
composition. Don’t delay on organizing this
information for easy access and tracking.
You need this barometer. Can Your Direct Mail Speak
Second, project out with scenarios. Be
deliberate in forecasting a range for key Before It’s Opened?
variables, like second gift rate. Then assess
the impact of those variables on next year’s
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Third, watch for long-tail impacts through before your
and opportunities. Are you accounting
accurately for the impact of recent new joins fundraising appeal
beyond the current budget cycle? Another
thing some folks lose track of—and that is opened!
senior leaders must understand—is how
your organization’s major donor pipeline
will be affected and on what timeline. Contact us today for details
Finally, if your organization reacted to
COVID-19 with deep acquisition cuts, you and samples
will need to begin course correction. Your
mission is to persuade senior leaders that 877.835.3052
this year’s savings are not worth the pain of
anemic renewal and appeal programs for
years to come.

After graduating from James Madison leader and sets such a strong example for our
University with a degree in kinesiology, the company and industry every day; Polly Papsadore
study of the mechanics of body movements, because being around her exuberant energy
Rebecca Shapalis thought she would work in is addicting and something I strive to put out
the physical therapy field or personal training into the universe. So many more colleagues and
field after graduation. After a quick internship managers throughout the years have helped
as a personal training assistant at the Fairfax shape the person and direct marketer I am today.
County Fire Department, she decided to do
what every respectable college grad does and What advice would you offer a novice who
get a real job while she figured out next steps. wants to move up in direct marketing?
A friend had recently completed an It goes without saying, but don’t be afraid to
internship at Craver Matthews Smith and ask questions and understand the “why” behind
told her about another company, Production what you are doing. Direct marketers love to find
Solutions, “that just got busy once a month efficiencies in everything they do, so don’t be
when the mail had to get out the door.” REBECCA SHAPALIS afraid to make suggestions on how to simplify or
Needless to say, she went in for an interview, Sr. Account Director improve processes. And most importantly, join
and the rest is history. Avalon Consulting Group the DMAW (or other associations). Education and
At the start of her career, she learned networking are essential for success.
the ins and outs of project management,
printing, data process and mailshop logistics. What is the most helpful step you took to
At Production Solutions, where she was responsible for client advance your direct marketing career?
satisfaction for a portfolio of clients, she learned a lot about adding Why, joining DMAW, of course! But honestly, it opened me up to so
value, not only externally, but also internally, working with her many others in the industry and to educational content, making
teams. it one of the most important steps in my career. I would also say
In this role, she had to really understand desired outcomes volunteering within the DMAW really helped expose me to many
for her clients, which had her asking and researching the “why” new faces and, ultimately, led me to my decision to run for the
a lot. This, in turn, got her interested in the strategy behind the DMAW board.
implementation and is when she began at Avalon, which was a
client of hers at the time. She’s since expanded her knowledge Tell us about your volunteer experiences with DMAW.
of direct marketing and had the opportunity to dig into strategy, I started volunteering at the information desk at Bridge, which
creative concepts, data analysis and so much more. I loved. Not only did I meet so many people, it also helped me
become familiar with the Gaylord National Convention Center,
Location: Annandale, Virginia which, let’s be honest, is overwhelming at first. I went on to co-chair
the volunteer committee for Bridge for two years in a row. This is
Education: James Madison University, bachelor’s degree in where I took on a more operational role, and I learned about the
kinesiology behind the scenes of Bridge Conference planning.

DMAW Member Since: 2006 Describe yourself in three words.

Positive, adaptable, encouraging.
Whom do you consider your mentors?
My parents, who established a strong worth ethic from the very Describe your life in six words.
beginning; Ben Harris, who helped me uncover the leader I never Family, laughing, friends, nonprofits, travel (in non-COVID times),
knew I could or wanted to be; Allison Porter, who is our fearless mommy.

Rebecca’s Favorites
Restaurants When I lived in D.C., Maydan Leisure Interests Most of my leisure
and Bresca. Now that I live in Annandale, activities include wrangling my toddler. But I
The Block is our spot! love a good hike on the weekend or a good
reality TV binge—I recently just got hooked
Films I am a big fan of any ‘90s movie. on “Selling Sunset” and just started “The
“Heart and Souls” stands out as one of my Crown.”
Quote “It’s not what you look at that
Books “The Time Traveler’s Wife”
matters, it’s what you see.” — Henry David
Music Some of my favorites are Rilo Kiley, Thoreau
Hoosier and Matt and Kim.
Japs-Olson Company is your direct mail production solution provider.
To receive our sample kit, contact Debbie Roth at or 952-912-1440.

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