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How to attract philanthropists to your nonprofit

Donations – it’s the part of running a non-profit that most of us would rather not think about. But it’s absolutely necessary to any non-profit’s continued survival.

Attracting philanthropists as major donors to your cause is the financial goal of any non-profit. But how do you make that happen? Here are some steps toward that goal.


Recognize that you’re not asking for charity

It is only right as you take a leadership role in this that you have clear in your own mind – and in the minds of anyone working with you in this endeavor – that you are not asking for charity.

Too often when the subject of fundraising arises, the thought arises that we are asking people to give us money and are offering nothing to them in return. That’s not the case. We are approaching people who have a passion for something that we are actively pursuing.

Usually, they are not in a position to directly pursue that passion. So they provide financial support to help us expand the work that they cannot do themselves. This is what they get in return.


Identify what your organization offers

This, of course, requires that you are clear on exactly what your organization offers. Too often, the passion the drives our efforts also blinds us in regard to clearly articulating what benefits those efforts offer. It is so clear to us on an emotional level that we find it hard to put what we do into words. And the words we eventually find often fall flat because we over-intellectualize them.

Take the time to get the message clear of what exactly you are accomplishing. Make sure it is both intellectually clear and emotionally engaging. Only then are you ready to make your case to potential donors.


Identify philanthropists who identify with what you offer

Certainly, you can use the Internet to research philanthropists who share your passion. This can at least get you started. Research foundations and individual philanthropists that share interest in your cause.

Don’t lose sight, however, of your most likely donors: your existing connections. Analyze your current major donors. How many large gifts have they given? How often have they given them? Look also at donors whose actions show a strong identification with your cause: relatively large initial donations, a growing size of donations over time, consistent responses to appeals for funds.

Create a list of donors and privately show it to your board, your staff and your volunteers. Find out whether any of them know anyone on the list who might make a sizeable gift. Ask them also if they know of anyone else who shares in a passion for your cause who might be interested in learning more about what you do?

With your most likely current donors, gather information on their connection to your group. Do they have a close connection to anyone on your board or staff whose request for funds would be best received? How committed are these donors to your cause? What are the specific things about your non-profit with which they identify the most? What is their giving ability?

Determine from this information who is best suited to contact each one. And identify the approach to use with each contact.


Publicize your efforts to like-minded philanthropists

With those who are unfamiliar with your organization, gather information. Network to find people who know the individuals whom you want to know about your non-profit and its cause. If you don’t find people who know those individuals directly, find people who know people who know them.

When you find them, find out the same things you sought to find out about your current donors: any connections to similar organizations, how passionate they are about the cause, the specific things they identify with in your cause. Then prepare to contact them, in the same manner, you approach your current donors.


Seek to meet with like-minded philanthropists

Ask to meet with current and potential donors. You can start with a letter thanking them for their ongoing support, expressing the hope that they will continue to support your efforts and alerting them to expect a call to hopefully set up a personal meeting to answer any of their questions about your organization and to encourage increased support.

Follow up with the call and the hoped-for meeting. Answer their questions. Invite them to raise their level of support. And be sure to ask them if they know of any others who might be interested in supporting your cause. Many of them likely know of others with similar interests and similar situations. Your donors’ referrals can be extremely valuable.

With potential donors, follow the same pattern. With them, however, you will need to provide more information up-front. Assuming that they know little or nothing about your specific organization, you will need to describe the scope of your work and why it fits with their specific passion.



Attracting philanthropists is time-intensive, but it is essential to the long-term health of your non-profit. Develop a clear message of what your organization is doing. Identify both current and potential donors for your cause. And make personal contact with potential donors whenever possible.

The effort you expend in pursuit of donors can be extensive. But the results will be well worth the effort.


Page last edited Jul 01, 2016 History

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