How can small organizations engage potential donors?

February 7, 2011 | By Adrianne Fielding | Post a Comment

The other day, I retweeted the following bit from Michael Chatman (@michaelchatman): “Most fundraising problems are not fundraising problems at all. They are org dev probs that poison fundraising success”

Chris O’Dell (@odellcs) then sent me a tweet saying: “suggestions for org plan to be more effective? I run a small org and need to develop stronger relationships with donors”

First off, I’ll admit that donor-focused fundraising isn’t my core area of expertise, although I’ve done plenty of work on organizational development in terms of smarter and more efficient grant seeking and grants management.

From that perspective, then, here are some of the things I’ve been thinking about in response to Chris’ question:

  • Planning – Identify and set priorities for your donor outreach activities to get and keep you focused. Set clear and attainable goals. Are you looking to identify new potential donors? Get a certain number of donations or amount of funding from new donors?  Get repeat donations from existing donors?  Specify how many or how much and by when. Find your focus by developing a compelling message that will resonate with the interests and motivations of potential donors.
  • People – Don’t blast a form letter to every known donor or foundation in the area.  Take a smart approach by strategically targeting your efforts. Identify those that will be most likely to support your organization. Reflect on the relationships you already have with potential and actual donors – both on and offline. Think about who they are and why they are interested in your organization and its activities. Ask them to recommend others who might also be interested – maybe they’ll even be willing to make an introduction.  If your activities have a local impact, consider approaching nearby community foundations.
  • Process – Develop some policies and procedures (even if they’re fairly basic) for how your organization will go about its donor outreach.  Draft a schedule, draft a series of tasks, and assign owners to those tasks. Use checklists or spreadsheets to keep track of activities. Keep yourself and others focused on the importance of outreach (and accountable for following through on their tasks) by scheduling regular status meetings about how the effort is going.  Share updates and celebrate every new and growing relationship with a potential or actual donor.

Also, recognize which of your relationship-building skills are already strong and find opportunities to work on some of the others. Track down tips on donor-oriented fundraising and capacity-building activities for start-up and small organizations from groups such as the Association of Fundraising Professionals501 Mission PlaceThe Fundraising Coach, Foundation Center and the Society of Nonprofit Organizations.

Fundraising-focused readers: what else should Chris and folks at other small organizations be doing to develop their capacity for reaching donors?


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