It’s a chicken and egg problem. How do you start fundraising when you don’t have a donor base? This is the most-asked question I get from startup and small nonprofits who want to increase their funding.
It’s not as intimidating as you might think. Seed donors, those donors who will make the first gifts to your organization or help you launch a successful campaign, are going to be those folks closest to you. They’re the family, friends, and business contacts of you, your team, and your Board. They’re the people who see what you’re doing every day, and who will invest in supporting your passion and mission.
1. Start with the low hanging fruit
Put aside aspirations of crowdfunding or landing a six figure grant for the moment. Now is the time to call on those closest to you, and tap into the network you already have. Bill Gates is busy but your mom is probably telling the barista at Starbucks, her hair dresser, and her dog walker about your amazing new initiative. Use her power for good!
“But I don’t want to ask my friends for money!” You’re not just hitting them up for a crowdfunding ask: you’re strategically asking them to become fundraising allies. Asking those in your immediate network for their support will help you build a donor base that will grow organically.
Before you know it, your favorite volunteer’s sister-in-law’s roommate might be your most supportive donor. That’s how networking works.
2: Assemble your team
There are two things I know for sure when it comes to fundraising.
You can’t do this alone.
Tons of strangers are probably not going to give you money.
That’s why having a good team is so important. The first question I always ask new Giant Squid Group partners is about their Board. Why? Because your Board Members are your fundraising heroes. They’re committing their time, money, and expertise to your organization. Asking them to fundraise isn’t just a best practice, it’s the quickest way to build your donor base.
Don’t stop with your board. Who else can help you with your fundraising? Are there staff members who light up when they get to talk about your mission to a stranger? Charismatic volunteers who are always eager to lend a helping hand?
3: Build your prospect list
It’s time to create a prospect list by doing our relationship mapping exercise with everyone we’ve talked about above: your board, volunteers, and team. Throw in your sister, your dog groomer, and your mailman if they seem interested. The goal is to have everyone come up with five to ten names of people they will solicit within the next 30 days.
Make sure this list has some meat to it. It should be made up of folks who will sincerely be interested in your work and who can make a gift or reach out and network on your behalf.
The best way get this done is. Get everyone together for a meeting. Have donuts. Do our relationship mapping exercise, and collect the names from everyone on your team. Pop them into your database (or spreadsheet) and you’ve got your first prospect list. (Don’t forget to write it down and put it in your database or keep it in a spreadsheet. This isn’t something that should live in your head!)
4: Invite prospects to learn more
Once you have a list of folks to whom you can reach out, it’s time to give them an opportunity to learn about your work. A parlor event (a small party in someone’s home) or happy hour is a great setting for you and your Board to talk shop with prospects.
The event itself can be simple! Ten people gathered in your living room enjoying wine and cheese, or a happy hour at your favorite local bar. The goal is to use the opportunity to mix, mingle, and talk about your work. Include a short program - ten minutes or so - and talk directly about organization, your goals, and the help you need.
Be ready to follow up with everyone who attended. The goal of the evening is to introduce people to your work and to give them the opportunity to hear first-hand what you do and why it matters.
5. Hold One-on-One Meetings
One-on-one meetings (whether in person or via phone) are an excellent opportunity to share more about your work, and cultivate your prospects. In addition to hosting events, have each of your Board Members call or meet with five people on their prospect list.
Each Board Member should plan on calling or meeting with at least five people as a result of their relationship mapping exercise. An ask for financial support can be done in these meetings, or as a follow up.
6. Make an Ask
Don’t assume people will follow an event or one-on-one meeting with a gift unless they are asked. Direct solicitations are key to seed funding. Face to face is best, but if you’ve already met with someone and talked about your work, an email isn’t the worst thing in the world. It’s unrealistic to think a founder can meet with all major donors.
Here’s an email I might write:
It was a pleasure chatting with you over coffee last week. I appreciate your insight into how we can use social media to reach millennial donors who may care about supporting cephalopod research.
I am hoping you find the mission and work of Giant Squid Group as inspiring as I do. Since we just launched, we need your help. Would you consider making a $100 donation to help seed our programs? You can make your gift online at giantsquidgroup.com or send a check.
Thanks, Jane.. I appreciate you considering my request, and I look forward to updating you on the work of Giant Squid Group throughout the year.
7. Don’t forget to say thank you
They've made a gift - hurrah! But your work isn’t done. In fact, it’s just beginning. Make sure to send a great thank you letter (within two business days if you can), and then start stewarding your new donor so they give again.
P.S. Want more ways to wow your donors and increase your fundraising? Subscribe to the Giant Squid Group monthly newsletter and get a copy of my free Fundraising 101 white paper today!