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July 23, 2013

Growing Your Donor and Prospects Pool – Part 1

by Tim Montague, M.S., CFRE | @tgmontague |

NOTE: This was originally published September 19, 2012 as guest post on the Taylor Studios blog (

Reaching a larger pool of prospects and donors is always a great way to expand your fundraising program. I caution all my clients that securing new donors is not cheap. On average it takes about ten times the resources to acquire new donors than it does to retain or upgrade an existing donor. That’s why upgrading donors is so important and must also be a priority. But growing your base is a must-do for any organization that wants to grow. It counters turnover, creates new opportunities for volunteer and board involvement, and generally breathes life into your organization.

Because donor acquisition is expensive, you have to be smart about it: a) Leverage your existing relationships as much as possible – seek referrals from your most loyal constituents; b) Be strategic, target certain demographics; c) Expand outreach thru events; and d) Develop outcomes based appeals.

Fundraising in all of its stages is relationship building. Don’t fall into the trap of thinking of it as scoring a goal. You point, aim, and shoot, right? Wrong. Developing donors is like making friends. You have visit, play (relax, be entertained), and bond. People (donors) are highly social animals and it takes us time to like and trust one another. Donors are investing in your future. They will do so only if they like and trust your organization.

Referrals – the warm network
Asking for referrals from your most loyal friends, volunteers and board members is a great way to grow your network of contacts (prospects) in a way that has built in advantages (greater ROI). If I’m a donor and I refer a business colleague, friend or neighbor to your organization, I’ve just made an even greater investment, I’ve put my reputation at stake, and I’ve introduced you to someone who shares my values and perhaps my philanthropic interests. This is the simplest yet often overlooked pathway for developing new donors. This is a great way to engage your donors and volunteers.

Target specific demographics while expanding outreach
All people are not created equal. We have personalities, interests, histories, careers and networks that set us apart from or connect us to one another. Decide who your best constituents are and figure out how to reach a bigger group of people with those characteristics (wealth, affinity, influence). If I’m raising money for a museum or cultural institution, I might want to target families with children in a certain geographic area or I could pursue prospects that belong to organizations that have similar educational or cultural themes (the arts, science/technology, or education).

Not everyone is a prospect. Once you know the demographic you are after you will find ways to meet them through their interests or circles of influence (service clubs, business organizations, schools/PTA, zip code, title, etc.). You can target new prospects by mail, by email and social media, and by hosting live events.

Hosting live events is the most fun of all these methods, but requires the most planning, preparation, and budget. A museum I worked for in Chicago hosted a series of ‘open doors’ events that were intimate affairs with an exclusive list of invitees hand selected by their best donors and volunteers. The events were designed as a first point of contact between new prospective donors and the museum leadership. They were a great way to showcase the museum in a highly social (networked) way that built instant trust and loyalty.

As one of my mentors likes to say, it’s amazing what you won’t get by not asking for it. In my next installment I’ll discuss developing ‘outcomes based’ appeals and how you can improve your response rate by framing your ‘pitch’ as an opportunity to save lives and change lives (the outcome). What you ask for matters! Thanks, and until next time – growth for the greater good! -Tim Montague, M.S., CFRE, aka ‘The Fundraising Consultant in East Central Illinois’

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