Finding first-time donors

Are you starting out with fundraising? Have zero donors? Or maybe you just feel that way?

I'm hearing that a lot lately - you are not alone.

I've decided to do a round-up of advice from a few of my fundraising friends to help you find your first donors.

I know how overwhelming it feels when you're trying to find first time donors. Of course, there's no magic bullet. Fundraising success comes with time, consistency and relationships. (You can read more about consistency and follow up here.)

We all have to start somewhere. So here are some starting points.

You will see what these have in common. Start with the people who are closest to your organization, including (and especially) board members and volunteers. I often talk about fundraising as match making - focus first on finding the right fit - people who love your organization.

Here are some ideas on how to get started:

Start by looking for people who would naturally gravitate to your cause. Are you a group helping new moms? Try reaching out to your local mommy group for a partnership. Do you help foster cats and dogs? Reach out to local pet stores, dog walker groups, and groomers and ask if you can leave donation forms in their shops, or be included in their newsletters.

- Ashleigh Saith, Charity Savant

I suggest starting with those closest to the organization Board, staff and volunteers. Hopefully these folks are donors but if not - a request to them to do two things: support the organization financially commensurate with their ability to give and invite friends, business associates and family to learn about something that is really important to them - your organization. When Board members indicate they are already giving their time it is important that they understand that a donation is just as important because it demonstrates to others that they believe enough in the organization to invest both time and money.

- MaryAnn Kerr, The Medalist Group

Don't default to having an event! Events are the most expensive, time consuming way to raise money - it tends to be difficult to convert ticket buyers into regular donors, and once you're on the event hamster wheel, it'll be hard to get your organization off. That said, the right kind of event can be effective - if your board is keen to hold an event, perhaps they'd consider hosting a house party. It's a great way to introduce their network to your inspiring work, and when done right, they can have much more impact than another rubber chicken gala dinner.

- Emma Lewzey, Blue Sky Philanthropy

Don’t forget about your volunteers. So many nonprofits are volunteer-driven, but we’re nervous about asking for money. Think of it as giving your volunteers the opportunity to have a deeper relationship with you. If they choose not to give, at least they will know that your charity needs funding. And as natural advocates for your cause, they might be able to leverage their personal and professional networks for support.

- Ashleigh Saith, Charity Savant

Unfortunately, very few people wake up in the morning with a plan to make a donation, so we can’t expect new donors to come to us. That means we need to come to them. Meeting donors where they are is essential to new donor acquisition. When planning acquisition efforts, think about where your prospective donors are – are they older? Should you be mailing them (utilizing rental lists)? Are they younger – should you be reaching them primarily on digital channels? Don’t limit your channel selections, but it should be one of your first strategic considerations when inspiring new donors to give.

- Maeve Strathy, What Gives Philanthropy

Start by getting the word out to those you serve. First, prepare a simple – short – description of what your organization does and how donations will improve that service. Include your contact name/info. Second, tell clients/patients/volunteers that the organization can improve services if it is able to raise money from individuals and companies that appreciate the work being done. Be as specific as possible about how services will improve. (e.g., we can eliminate our waiting list). Finally, ask them to share the description with people in their communities.

- Denny Young, Denny Young Consulting

I would ask each board member to invite two contacts to experience a piece of the programming that the organization conducts. Let these people experience the best of your program, and invite them afterwards to a dinner/social to provide feedback, thoughts and impressions. I find that a great way to cultivate donors is to ask them first for advice. The old adage is true: Want money? Ask for advice. Want advice? Ask for money. When the prospect feels that they've had a hand in building your programming, they will feel more invested when it comes time to make an ask.

- Aine McGlynn, Senior Fundraising Manager, White Ribbon