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How to Attract New Donors to Your Cause

building community support relationship building Apr 13, 2021

“I want you to find us new donors.” It could be individual, foundation, corporate or governmental donors you seek, or all of them. And I can help you. But not in ways you might think.

Target Specific Donor Groups

Attracting donors takes time and effort. And in the nonprofit world, these are hard to come by. There is so much to do with not enough time that you want every moment to count. You need to use the least amount of resources for the most amount of gain. And, with the limited resources most nonprofits operate with, you want to use those resources to get as much value as you can. You don’t want to spend money looking for just anyone to support you. You are looking to expend resources so they attract as many new donors as possible. The answer is to target the donors who will be most passionate about your mission. And by target I mean define your donor groups as specifically as you can in terms of age, ethnicity, gender, education, income, likes, and preferences. The more narrowly defined your target group, the more likely you will realize success. 

Why target smaller, distinct groups instead of going after everyone? Say you want to fish for flounder. You could go out with a boat, cast a wide net, and get a lot of fish, a few of which are flounder. Or, you could go where flounder tend to congregate, cast a small yet, get fewer fish but a lot of which are flounder. In the first scenario you expend a lot of resources to get very few of what you want. In the second scenario, you don’t end up with as much fish but you get a lot more of flounder. We talked about this in How to Generate Stupendous Community Support.

Why target the most passionate and not the most wealthy? Because people who are passionate for your cause will likely give you more than money. Like a good word when talking to their friends and family. Or volunteer time to help you runs your programs or recruit other donors and volunteers. Or in-kind donations so that your costs are reduced. And the fact that most people don’t give large donations without a relationship in which to do it. And building relationships takes time. The first step to acquiring new donors is to identify them. The second step is to develop a relationship with them. Then, when the timing is right, you ask for money.

Hear Your Prospective Donors

To find out about your potential individual donors, research them. To learn their group values, beliefs, likes, and preferences, you might visit the Center for Generational Kinetics and analyze their research. Or you might start a conservation and interact with the people you want to reach and write down your observations. Or you might conduct a survey or convene a focus group. For more information on soliciting community feedback, read What Does the Community Really Think of Your Nonprofit?

To learn about prospective foundation donors, study their 990s and giving trends. Visit their websites. Study their application guidelines. Read their reports, white papers, and press releases. It’s all public information. We talked about where to find this kind of information in Building Donor Relationships: Foundations.

You can study potential corporate donors by assessing information on their website and in their corporate reports and company press releases. You might also want to become more proficient in understanding their issues and speaking their language by reading business journals and economic reports.

If you are researching potential government funders, visit their websites, see what they do, and what they fund. Read the results of any community studies they have conducted. You also have legislation, rules, and regulations ad nauseum you can read. We explored the kind of research you need to conduct before approaching government funders in Building Donor Relationships: Government Funders.

When you get information about your donor groups, hear what they are saying, not what you want them to say. Listen to them. Find a way to loop back with them and confirm your perceptions. Take the evidence you end up with and use it to fashion your approach and subsequent communications to them. To get those communications just right, base your efforts on objective data they have provided.

Validate Your Budding Donor Relationships

After your initial approach, it is time to start building relationships that culminate in an ask for money. Start by validating the people you interact with. That doesn’t mean you necessarily agree with them. It means you listen to them until they feel heard and understood. Acknowledge their values, beliefs, likes, and preferences. Accept who they are in their entirely. People yearn to be acknowledged and accepted. You can meet that need.

Approach them with an attitude of gratitude. Thank them for their time and interest. Thank them in the beginning of the interaction and again at the end. They have chosen to spend a portion of their life responding to you. Be honored. Stay positive. Be a bright spot in their day. People tend to respond to others in the same way they are approached. Expect the best. Assume the best. Always give a potential donor the benefit of the doubt. Do your best to make that person feel that he or she has helped you have a better day.

Take one step at a time. One baby step at a time. Talk about the process of developing a relationship. Ask about next steps. Then follow up on your conversation. Especially if you reached agreement on what would happen next. Relationships need continued time and attention. Give them.

Wrapping It Up

It takes time and effort to build potential donor relationships. Time and effort that is precious. Set for yourself up for success. Target narrow donor groups, Research and learn about your donors. Get evidence of what they think and use that information to create effective communication campaigns. Approach prospective donors with honor, gratitude, and respect. Acknowledge and validate what is important to them. And you will have laid the groundwork for making the ask for money.  

To discuss how this article relates to your nonprofit, I invite you to participate in a free, 30-minute discovery session with me. 


During our time together, we will clarify the fundraising issues your nonprofit is facing, explore possible solutions, and develop a plan of action. When you make your appointment, you will be asked a few brief questions about your situation so that I am best prepared to help you.

I look forward to our conversation!  

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