List Exchanges: Saving (and Making) Money

nonprofit fundraising

Have you heard the old saying, “money saved is money raised?”

When it comes to donor acquisition, we all know that without a good, targeted list, fundraising doesn’t usually go anywhere. As a result, nonprofit fundraisers for several decades have participated in – and benefited from – the process of exchanging and renting donor lists.

In most cases, these open and dynamic relationships are instituted upon a mutual agreement of trust, honor and ethics.


List Exchange 101

By definition, list exchanges are agreements between two organizations to make their lists available to each other on an “even trade” basis, versus charging the usual rental fee. List exchanges are frequently used by nonprofits for donor acquisition.

Exchanging lists, rather than renting, to acquire new donors, can have several benefits:

  • It’s substantially less money to exchange a list than to rent it, ultimately reducing your organization’s overall acquisition costs and improving ROI.
  • Exchanging lists can often lead to acquiring even more revenue than originally anticipated, thanks to the exposure and new relationships with like-minded causes and organizations.
  • List exchanges can keep an organization’s overall net “per new name” (new donor acquired) down low.
  • In many cases, list exchange names tend to perform better than rentals because they come from lists bursting with donors who have previously shown interest in similar causes.
  • List exchanges are almost always pre-qualified. In other words, they are previously tested and proven to work.


Parting Advice 

Be sure to always do your homework before getting involved with any list exchange. And always glean as much about the prospective list with which you are exchanging as you possibly can before signing on the dotted line.

In fact, many industry professionals suggest the following before diving in head-first. They suggest you ensure that the list:

  • Has recently been updated and refreshed with 0-12 month donors;
  • Shows an indication of performance for similar organizations;
  • The ability to roll out;
  • Provides assurance that neither your list nor the exchanged list is too weighted with low or high donors, or those that have not given in several years.

Finally, work year-round to make sure your list is solid and reliable. Before you consider exchanging lists, your file should already be established, and your donors should be relatively committed to your organization.


On average, new IPM clients see a 34.8% increase in direct mail fundraising acquisition response rates within the first year of working with us. Want to learn more?

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