By Elaine Weber Nelson
SCC Marketing & Development Consultant
How to find and keep donors is an ongoing concern for all nonprofit organizations regardless of their size or length of time in existence. Nonprofits live or die based on community support – it’s part of their DNA, predicated on the idea that if there is no community support, perhaps the organization should no longer exist. Sometimes no longer existing in its original form is a good thing – look at the March of Dimes – they still exist but their focus evolved from fighting polio to preventing premature birth/birth defects when their initial raison d’être no longer was necessary.
So, the key question is this: How does an organization find and keep donors? And the answer? Engagement. It is actually that basic. What is more difficult is figuring out how to engage well. All too often, the initial “engagement” is a request for a contribution. I have clients who will say, “But we need the money! We have to ask now.” However, what they are missing is that the prospective donor is saying, “We don’t know who you are,” or, “We’re not connecting with your mission (at least not right now).” See the disconnect?
What can we do about it? Learn to see fundraising as stewardship, which goes far beyond just asking for a gift. Stewardship is about managing value on both sides of the equation. Stewardship means we value the service our organization provides and we share that value. Stewardship means we honestly want more from supporters than their money.
Therefore, we need to follow a process of engagement:
1) Identification – Who SHOULD like us? (Those who already give to like-causes.) Who COULD like us? (People affected by what we do in some way.)
2) Introduction – How can we share what we do with our prospect? (Direct mail, social media, advertising, invitations, open houses…)
3) Cultivation – If they have expressed interest in our cause, how might we encourage them to learn more about us? Who is already connected to our organization that might be able to help?
4) Involvement – Based on what we now know about our prospect, which aspect of what we do might appeal most to them and how do we introduce them to it?
5) Solicitation – This is the FIFTH step, not the first. Here we ask what the best method is to make the ask – in person, at an event, email, crowdfunding, direct mail…
6) Appreciation – Not to be overlooked, no one can ever say thank you often enough.
Follow these steps and you will live out what a nonprofit organization is truly meant to be and have the resources to do it.