You need new donors.
“How did you know that?” Nonprofits are constantly looking for new donors, and a large part of fundraising is introducing prospective donors to your work. If you’re just starting out, this can be particularly daunting. How, exactly, do you find people who want to donate to your nonprofit?
There are two (deceivingly simple) steps to finding new donors. First, grow your list of prospective donors. Second, get them to make a gift.
For the one-woman shop, volunteer-run org, or overwhelmed Executive Director how do you find time to find new donors while also running programs, handling the finances, and squeezing in the latest episode of Call the Midwife after a long day of work? Start with these five simple (and free) ways to build out your individual donor pool, and increase your fundraising.
#1. Work Your Network
Sadly, donors do not materialize out of thin air.
It takes systematic work to get people to a point where they want to make a gift to your organization. Many new-and-full-of-zeal fundraisers miss the importance of making a prospect list, or pipeline.
Why do you need a prospect list? It’s easier (much, much easier) to convert folks who are already involved in your organization in some way into donors than it is to find someone who has never heard of your work before and solicit them for a gift.
Your prospect pipeline starts with the people who are already aware of and involved with your work. Who are your volunteers? Who subscribes to your newsletter? Who has made a gift in the past? These people are your lowest-hanging fruit, the ones that have already shown they are interested in the work you do and willing to get more involved.
An important step in building your prospect pool is to write it down. These names aren’t helpful if they live on a Post-It note on your desk or in the head of your Founder. To fundraise effectively, you need to begin to systematically track the people who support your work.
A good rule of thumb is a 25% conversion rate, meaning that for every four names you generate on your prospect pipeline, one will become a donor. This puts things into perspective: if you need 100 new donors, that’s 400 names!
#2: Ask For Recommendations
You’ve started your prospect pipeline and populated it with the names of volunteers and other fans. How can you continue to grow your list of prospects? Ask your Board (and other leadership volunteers!)
This “Relationship Mapping” is an important way to build connections to people and businesses that can help your organization grow, and it is an easy way for every Board Director to play an active role in fundraising.
Ask each Board Director to make a list of 10 to 15 people who they think would be interested in learning more about your work, and who can be added to your prospect pipeline. These can be family friends, colleagues, business acquaintances...anyone your Board Director thinks would be interested in your work!
Need help? Download a free prospect pipeline tracker to start gathering the names of potential donors!
#3: Find Your Fans
A common mistake many new executive directors and fundraisers make is assuming that everyone interested in your broader field of work will be interested in your specific organization. But donors give where they feel a connection, whether based on a positive experience with your work, a friendship with a Board member, or a personal reason they want to support your work.
Think about the organizations you personally support as a donor or volunteer. What made you choose them? My husband’s philanthropic passion is supporting children’s hospitals, because his cousin passed away from brain cancer at a young age. His personal connection draws him to organizations that work to fight childhood cancer, and this will always be a passion. It’s not healthcare in general, nor is it a specific type of cancer awareness. It’s specifically helping young children fight cancer that fires him up.
To find your natural constituency - the folks that are drawn to your organization - get specific. If you are a dog rescue, what sets you apart? Is it a specific breed of dog? A geographic location? A way in which you treat your rescued dogs? Instead of looking for donors interested in dog rescue, look for people passionate about geriatric chihuahuas instead.
Once you’ve gotten specific about what sets you apart, it’s easier to figure out who your donors might be. They are the folks following you on social media, subscribing to your newsletter, coming to your events, and reaching out to volunteer - exactly the folks you want to add to your prospect pipeline!
#4: Don’t Waste Energy on the “Big Fish”
Without fail, when major names like Mark Zuckerberg or Oprah Winfrey commit millions (or billions) of dollars to charity, nonprofit organizations across the world start to see dollar signs. The follow up question is always “How do we get in on this?”
And the answer is always the same: “Do you know someone who can get us a meeting with Zuckerberg?” If the answer is no, the odds of a small, scrappy start-up getting funded are very, very low.
Philanthropy is driven by relationships and by results. Mega-philanthropists and top foundations are inundated with requests for funding and meetings, and they will prioritize those organizations with whom they have a connection. When they do invest, they want to know their funds are being used effectively and having maximum impact. That’s why newer organizations may have a hard time proving to seasoned funders that they’re worth the investment, and forging the connections to get that initial meeting.
Instead of thinking about how to pitch to Zuckerberg, instead focus on who your ideal donor might be, and who in your existing network can help you identify leaders in your community who can make a large donation. Maybe it’s the CEO of a local corporation who goes to church with your board treasurer, or a well-connected philanthropist who is the childhood friend of your Founder. These folks are much more likely to be your Big Fish, so focus on them!
#5: Have a Crystal Clear Call-to-Action
What do you want from people who follow you on social media, who visit your website, and who read your newsletter?
You want them to donate.
But, what do they see when they visit your website? A call-to-action to donate should be the first thing they see, whether that is the “donate now” button or some other solicitation. In fact, your whole website should be geared towards your donors. You want it to share your story and work, highlight your successes, and make it clear that their (financial) support is key.
In fact, your whole online presence should be geared to converting followers to donors. This doesn’t mean bombarding your Facebook page with request for donations. Instead, make sure you’re sharing content about your work, photos of the people you are helping, and updates on your successes, and link back to your (very donor-friendly) website.
Putting It All Together
There’s no silver bullet for finding donors. It’s hard work, and often takes longer than we’d like. Sure, you can buy a direct mail list from marketers, but you’re not identifying your natural constituency that way, and the results from that type of donor acquisition are so low I have to question their value.
Instead, remember that slow and steady wins the race. Focus on building relationships and sharing results. Prioritize this as you continue fundraising, focusing on building a relationship-based prospect pipeline, and your donor base will grow!
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