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The Small Nonprofit’s Guide to Finding New Donors: 3 Easy Steps

Learn more about how small nonprofits can find new donors.

Learn more about how small nonprofits can find new donors.

Building a donor base can be a daunting task when you’re running a small nonprofit. You’ve got a hundred other things to do and finding new supporters for your nonprofit can feel a bit overwhelming if you don’t know where to begin.

Here’s the secret to finding new donors for your organization: Start on the inside and work your way out.

What does that mean? It means you should start building your donor base by reaching out to people who are already in your inner circle, then work your way out by leveraging relationships and connections to meet new people.

Let’s break it down so you can see exactly how this works. Here are three easy steps to finding new donors for your small nonprofit using this inside-out approach.

Step 1: Reach out to your inner circle.

The best place to start when building your donor base is with your personal inner circle.

Your friends and family already know and love you, and they want to see you and your nonprofit succeed. It can feel a bit awkward to ask these folks to give, but these people are your hottest prospects and will more than likely be delighted to support your nonprofit’s good work.

Next, invite those who are already committed to your nonprofit to give, mainly your board members and volunteers. These people are already giving their time to support your mission and will most likely give money too. Your volunteers see firsthand what your needs are and may want to give for specific items or program supplies, which if those are things you need anyway.

Depending on your nonprofit’s mission, you might also invite program participants or their family members to give. For example, the parents of the child who rides each week at your therapeutic horseback riding program will be happy to give, as will the adult who participates as a mentor in your afterschool reading program. Their personal experience with your nonprofit’s work will motivate them to give.

Not everyone from your inner circle will donate, but many will. If you’re feeling a bit shy about asking, try throwing a Facebook fundraiser for your birthday and asking your inner circle to give. It’s a low-key way to invite people to help out, and it gives you a reason to ask for their help. Why not ask your Facebook friends for a donation to an organization close to your heart on your special day?

You could also ask each of your friends, family members, volunteers, and board members to host a Facebook fundraiser on their birthdays, too.

Here’s a way we’ve seen one soon-to-be nonprofit founder reach out to their inner circle: They wake up every morning and send two or three personal notes to their friends who are celebrating birthdays that day. They wish them a happy birthday, share a special memory about their friendship, and then ask them to donate to their organization in honor of the occasion.  They send about 18 messages each week, and they get about three new donors. That’s 156 new donors in one year!

They need to raise $25,000 to launch the nonprofit, which will help young people go to college. They’re more than halfway there already using this strategy. When asked, they said the hardest part was swallowing their pride and asking for money, but they got over it after a week or two because they’re making asks every single day. You know how this works: the more you do something, the better you get at it and the easier it gets. They know most people won’t give, and they’re fine with that. No one has unfriended them just for asking.

So start with the people you know, and ask them all! They’ll give or they won’t, but they probably won’t be offended that you asked—and you may be surprised by who responds. The mom you knew years ago when your daughters played volleyball together might share your passion for addressing food insecurity or your former co-worker might love to help you save more cats.

Step 2: Focus on your inner circle’s inner circle.

Next, work your way out to the next level of potential supporters: the friends and contacts of the people who have already supported your organization.

You’re just one person and your sphere of influence is what it is. To reach more people and build your donor base, you need more connections. So, leverage the connections of those in your inner circle.

Think about your board members and how you can turn them into a fundraising Board. Ask each board member to host a Facebook birthday fundraiser. See if three board members can host small house gatherings to introduce their friends and family members to your organization. Ask them to send out a call for donations via social media at the same time and on the same date in a mini blitz for new donors. You might even make it a friendly competition.

Challenge every board member to take at least one step toward bringing a few new donors into the fold. Then make the challenge to your volunteers, sharing some success stories of your board members casting a net among their contacts.

Likewise, when donors and volunteers ask what else they can do to support your organization, ask them to consider hosting a gathering of friends in their homes to learn about your organization’s work. You should also ask if they belong to a club, association, or another group that might welcome you as a guest speaker.

My friend recently did a speaking engagement via Zoom at the invitation of a college professor, through a connection made by a board member. My friend didn’t expect much from the college students. But it turned out the professor taught in the graduate program, and his students were already in the workforce and had money to donate. My friend was thrilled to get nine new donors just by showing up on camera and talking about her nonprofit. Additionally, 35 people signed up for her newsletter. I love an unexpected win like that!

Speaking gigs are a great way to spread the word about your nonprofit and find new supporters! Just be sure you have a great talk so people lean in to hear more.

If your mother asks what you want for your birthday, ask if she would be willing to send an email to her friends letting them know about your organization and inviting them to give. If she’s active on Facebook, ask her to post about your organization and include a donation link.

Leveraging relationships works because your inner circle’s friends trust them. That trust is enough for them to donate, even if they don’t know you well. You see, people typically only give to organizations that seem trustworthy. And these friends-of-friends figure if their friend is involved in your nonprofit, it must be worth supporting.

By offering your inner circle easy ways to invite their friends to get involved with your nonprofit, you’ll build your donor base.

Step 3: Reach beyond your inner circle’s inner circle.

For the third step, you have to venture a little farther away from your inner circle and find new donors you aren’t connected to personally. This is where you go from an impressive batting average with lots of people saying yes to having to work harder for fewer donations. But it’s necessary in order to grow your donor base.

This step gets much easier after you think about your ideal donors and where you can find them. How would you describe your typical donor? What are they interested in? What do they value? Where do they hang out?

The more clear you can be about exactly who is most likely to care about your cause, the easier it is to find them in your community or online. This is the epitome of working smarter, not harder.

If you’re running an environmental organization, where can you meet people interested in helping preserve our planet? Can you set up a table at a local farmer’s market?

If you’re running an animal rescue organization, where can you find people who love animals? Could you set up a table at a dog-friendly community festival? Can you invite people to become donors at adoption events?

If your organization supports women and families affected by domestic violence, find women’s groups to speak to. There are many all-women professional organizations full of members who might give either because they were touched by your mission or because of their own experience with domestic violence.

If your organization focuses on education, retired teachers can be a wonderful source of support. See if your local teacher’s organization has a chapter for retired teachers.

There are as many ways to find new donors. You just have to think about your ideal donor and where that person spends their time. Then go there and meet them!

The bottom line

Finding new donors is something every small nonprofit should do regularly. In fact, it should be part of your fundraising plan. Ask yourself every day: Where do people interested in the work we’re doing hang out? How can I reach them? Who can make an introduction to them?

New donors are out there, and some of them are waiting to meet someone like you. Start on the inside and work your way out, and you will see your donor base grow.

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