nonprofit donor prospecting

Nonprofit Donor Prospecting: How to Master the Basics

Here’s a familiar scenario. (If you’re an experienced nonprofit executive, I’m almost certain you’ve been here. I know I have.) The rest of your office is dark. The last staff went home hours ago. You’re still handcuffed to your desk, crunching budget numbers. At this rate, without a big financial windfall, you won’t have enough to make payroll or to fund that prized community program in just a few short months.

Perhaps sooner.

What’s your move? What do you tell the Board? Where do you find that windfall? Your nonprofit is clearly in fundraising mode, but how do you go about it without making desperate mistakes? Do you begin nonprofit donor prospecting? Or do you double down on the same tired fundraising tactics – staying married to that annual fundraising gala, donation boxes, competitive grants, high-interest loans, etc. – that got you here in the first place?  

The latter sounds an awful lot like a gambling addiction. Just one more hit, one more roll of the dice, one more wheel spin, and everything will be OK. But it’s at this point you need a sure bet. You need to double, triple, or even quadruple down on nonprofit donor prospecting as part of a Major Gifts Fundraising strategy that brings the most return on investment (ROI). 

Nonprofit Donor Prospecting is the Sure Bet in a Major Gifts Fundraising Strategy

In earlier articles, I’ve explained the great potential of Major Gifts Fundraising for ROI and mining for charitable gold. This blog provides tips to master the basics of nonprofit donor prospecting to raise more unrestricted money, reduce costs, and save time by identifying and connecting with major gift donors. 

Your goal here is high ROI, that is, spending the least amount of time and resources to get the highest financial return. You only have so much time during the day. Spend it where you will realize the highest benefit.  

Friends With Deep Pockets

The benefit of Major Gifts Fundraising is connecting with prospective donors who have a few commas in their bank statements – enough money for their family and themselves to live comfortably while also putting their wallets behind their beloved charitable causes.

It makes sense to start here, right? Why try 40 different ways involving 4,000 steps to raise $40,000 when 12 phone calls could potentially raise $12 million? That’s the thinking behind great nonprofit donor prospecting – and it’s tried and true. 

It takes some research, which could receive a great boost from donor research software memberships like DonorScope. It takes poking around, paying attention to the charitable realm, and carefully identifying those whose philanthropic priorities align with your nonprofit mission. Compiled lists of donors who give to other nonprofits in your community – as well as large nonprofit and foundation board members – are also a source of people who may support your nonprofit. 

Which begets one of the most vital components of nonprofit donor prospecting: relationship-building. When creating a new list of donor prospects, members on that list typically aren’t already engaged with your nonprofit. You need a way to get them involved with your agency and communicate the impact your nonprofit makes. 

Inviting them to partner in your nonprofit mission works marvelously. Summon them to volunteer or otherwise immerse themselves for a first-hand glance at your community impact. Cultivation events also bring prospects into your sphere to witness through education, conversation and presentation

Donor Prospects You Already Know

You can also find prospective major gift donors through your agency’s primary and secondary connections. Primary connections are the people directly involved with your nonprofit. Primary contacts can be found on staff, board, volunteer, newsletter, and vendor lists, for example. 

These good folks have actively participated in your nonprofit mission, whether through employment or selflessly giving their time and expertise. Many of them, however, have never given for one singular reason: THEY HAVEN’T BEEN ASKED! 

If they’re invested in your nonprofit in any way, they’re a potential donor. Board members, staff, and volunteers are already doing the work of your agency. Your vendors and business partners will be interested in how they benefit as you grow. Look at all your existing partners as potential donors. 

Since they’re already supporting your agency or the people you serve in nonfinancial ways, it’s fine to invite them to enter into a deeper relationship. (Helpful hint: They already have skin in the game. They want you to succeed.) 

Admittedly, it may be a stretch to find a millionaire on your volunteer roster, but it’s more common than you might think. The most common millionaire is the trade business owner who lives in the nice, but humble, home next door. And for those who haven’t amassed a fortune, no one says you should stop targeting small and mid-level donors.

Expand Your Donor Network

Secondary connections are the connections of your connections. Their friends, family, and colleagues may not be invested in your nonprofit, but they are invested in the relationship with that donor. 

Ask your current donors to forward your email newsletters to their friends, family, and colleagues who may be interested in your nonprofit’s mission. Urge them to share social media posts with their personal and professional networks. You can even ask them to invite their connections to an event your agency is hosting.

Don’t Lead With Your Ask

Usually, a nonprofit’s first contact with donors on another agency’s list is a request for money. How off-putting is that? How does such an approach to nonprofit donor prospecting value the person in any other way than the money they have? It doesn’t. 

Even if you get a gift, it will certainly not be their best gift. 

I’ve found that most nonprofits have no plans for how to engage individuals or to cultivate prospects when prospects do engage with them. Because they aren’t thinking about the relationship; they’re thinking about the money. Great nonprofit donor prospecting done right builds relationships with forethought and specific plans of care and improves your chances for financial support. 

Wrapping It Up With Nonprofit Donor Prospecting

Your goal for nonprofit donor prospecting MUST BE to raise the largest gifts first. So, wealth screen your lists and prioritize spending time with and cultivating those connections with a capacity to give large gifts. 

But you mustn’t leave stones unturned. Your network of primary and secondary connections associated with your nonprofit can be veritable pools of untapped funding – if nurtured correctly. And these nonprofit fundraising tactics aren’t just for huge organizations with bigger budgets. Even small nonprofits can benefit.

Next Steps

The Major Gifts Fundraising model organically attracts new donors to your charitable cause. Learn more about this model and how it can easily raise 5-, 6-, and 7-figure gifts at an upcoming Major Gifts Ramp-Up event. Be sure to mention Joanne Oppelt in the “how you heard about us” section.

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