Finding Your First Donors: A Step-by-Step Guide for New Organizations
by Joe Garecht
For new (or almost new) organizations, the process of finding donors or members can seem daunting. Unlike more established organizations, newer non-profits can’t rely on a steady stream of current supporters for gifts, referrals, and support. While most organizations that have been around for a few years can send out an appeal letter or hold a fundraising event and expect revenue to come in, newer organizations may not have a member list to mail or a team of supporters to invite to events.
That being said, there are ways young cultural organizations can successfully build a supporter base. It’s hard work… focused on reaching out to patrons one at a time, building relationships, and making asks. It takes time, but it can be done. Here’s a simple, four-step frame work for finding the first donors for your new non-profit:
Step #1: Cast a Vision
There’s fierce competition for your potential donors’ attention. You’re competing with thousands of other messages in their inboxes, on TV, and in their conversations each and every day. In order to grab their attention, you need to stand out. You need to create a message that makes people stand up and take notice.
Everyone on Earth wants to be part of something bigger than themselves. Everyone wants to be part of a team working to make the world a better place. Your organization gives people the chance to do something great by supporting your work and outcomes. But people don’t want to give to small visions… so make sure your organization is casting a vision that is big, bold, and impactful. Encapsulate that vision and message in a well-written and emotionally compelling case for support for your mission.
Step #2: Build a Network
Once you have your case for support written, it is time to build a network of people who know about and are interested in your work. It is important to do this before you ask any of these prospects for gifts. Compile a list of everyone in your community who might be interested in what you do. Include local businesspeople, artists, philanthropists, community leaders, politicians, etc. Start reaching out to them to build a network of support for your organization.
Likewise, everyone who is working with you (including board members and volunteers, as well as any staff members you have) should be reaching out to their friends, neighbors, colleagues, vendors, clients, etc. to tell them about your work. If you don’t yet have a board together, now is the time to build one!
Step #3: Hold Non-Ask Events
As you build your support network, start holding non-ask events to build stronger relationships with your community and to allow them to meet your team. Non-ask events are cultivation or “point of entry” events – small gatherings where you are not asking anyone for a donation, and there is no cost to attend. Hold these events at your office or facility, or ask a supporter or board member to host one in their home, office, or at a local restaurant.
Non-ask events should last no longer than 90 minutes, and should feature a short presentation about your work, some time to socialize, a tour of your facility, and some materials for people to take home with them after the event. Tell all of the attendees you will be following up with them to see if they have any additional questions… then make sure to do so.
Step #4: Start Making Asks
The fourth and final step is to start making asks. Compile a list of everyone you talked with as you launched your non-profit, including your board members, those who said “no” to being on the board, those you met as you built your network, everyone who came to your non-ask events, etc. Then, reach out to each of them to ask them to make a donation to support your non-profit. The most effective way to make these asks is in person. If you can’t speak with them in person, ask over the phone, or via a snail mail or e-mail letter.
Remember, the best asks are questions that can be answered “yes” or “no,” and that they are specific – meaning that when asking someone for a donation, you give a suggested amount. Don’t make wishy-washy asks. Be direct, polite, and specific. If you’ve developed a strong message and built a meaningful relationship with your prospects, they are likely to say “yes!”