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Fundraising 101: Growing Donor Passion

Resource Center - Foundation

(Oct. 5, 2010) Harnessing a donor's passion is key to ensuring a lasting and fruitful relationship. Here are some good tips on cultivating major donors for your annual campaign from fundraising veteran Erik J. Daubert, MBA, ACFRE.

Related Resource: AFP Annual Fund Hot Topic Page

Daubert explains that people give at the level where their passion meets their ability to give. You cannot change the amount of money a person has, but you can take steps to bring them in closer and closer as partners in your cause.

He encourages fundraisers to think of cultivation as a year-round process that focuses mostly on information gathering and growing closer to the prospect, some on thanking and reporting information to the individual, and only occasionally asking for a gift. Here it is clear that the primary objective is building a relationship--igniting the donor's passion.

Find out what would motivate the donor to become most involved, and what in their life has led them to want to support your cause in the first place. What are their values and interests?

Not only is it important to know your donor, equally important is that your donors know all about you. Consider a formal orientation for your staff and volunteers so that they are fully informed about your organization. If you want your donors to know and become part of your story, start by making your staff and volunteers effective storytellers.

Donors as "Co-owners"

There are many levels of involvement a donor can have with your organization. The following is an example of the steps your donor may take to greater engagement. (Read the steps from bottom to top for full effect.)

Top of the Ladder

  • Gives even larger gifts!
  • Takes on deeper volunteer assignments and challenges.
  • Makes a gift of money to your organization.
  • Forms and keeps deep relationships with other volunteers, program participants, or staff at your nonprofit.
  • Volunteers for one of your programs or initiatives.
  • Continues nonprofit program participation.
  • Becomes a part of a small community at your nonprofit.
  • Participates in a program that you provide.
  • First learns about your organization.

Bottom of the Ladder

The goal, of course, is to treat prospective donors and current donors as partners, or as "co-owners," as Daubert says.  "As ‘co-owners,' donors and volunteers take a vested interest in seeing projects to completion, making programs even more successful and the organization as a whole reach its full potential," he explains. "It becomes a functioning part of their lives and not just a meeting they go to.  As staff members, we often think that we represent the organization...and we do...but there is no reason that the right volunteers can't do the same thing, sometimes with even more ability than staff."

Cultivation Ideas

Every time you come in contact with a prospective donor you have the opportunity to build his or her passion for the cause. Be creative! Here are some specific ideas for cultivation.

  • Invitations to events that may be of interest, importance or meaning to them.
  • Invitations to participate in non-fundraising activities.
  • Invitations to dine (lunch, breakfast, dinner) with people important to the cause.
  • Feature stories on the family, if appropriate and approved, in your newsletter.
  • Calls on their anniversary, birthday, graduation and so on.
  • Informal birthday greeting or other cards
  • Thank-you gifts
  • Thank-you notes
  • Informal handwritten notes
  • Newspaper clippings of interest ("I saw this and thought that you might be interested ...")
  • Recognition of all kinds (banners, boards newsletters and so on.)
  • Committee work
  • Board service
  • Individual celebratory events

There is no one right answer for every donor, Daubert explains.  While there are certainly more conventional ways that organizations have brought people closer to the organization, they are not the only ways. 

Getting Creative

If you are a nonprofit that is in the arts field, you might bring your targeted volunteers/donors to a special showing.  If you are an environmental organization, have a hike  with hot chocolate and cookies in the middle of the trip to have a chance for staff or others already close to the organization to chat with the prospective volunteers or donors to get to know them or discuss a new program that is in the works.  If you are with an organization that helps animals, take pictures of recent animals helped or saved, and email volunteers or donors and thank them for their part in the process. 

The event, thought or action does not need to be expensive in order to be effective.  Creativity and authenticity on the part of the organization will speak volumes to the right people and will ultimately bring them closer. 

In cultivation, you are doing many things at once with a donor. You assess their interest, inform them, get to know them, learn what would make them more passionate, engage them and ignite their passion for deep and significant support. Every point of contact should have a purpose. In the end, and in due time, you'll not just have a major gift donor, you'll have a fully invested "co-owner" in your cause.

Fundraising consultant and speaker Erik J. Daubert, MBA, ACFRE, will present an AFP Web/Audioconference this Thursday, Oct. 7, titled, "Annual Campaign - Raising More Money with Fewer Resources." Daubert is the author of The Annual Campaign, a new Nonprofit Essentials book in the AFP/Wiley Fund Development Series available in the AFP Bookstore.

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