Expanding Your Donor Base

Dear Kim:

I am the Development Director for a very small environmental organization that until recently was self-funded and run by all volunteers. I am designing a development program from the ground up and I would like to build our individual donor base. Currently, there are 200 names in our database, 53 of whom made donations last year, for a total of just over $15,000. We are not a membership organization. My question is: What is the best way to increase the number of donors/prospects in our database? (Other than board brainstorming.)

–People Who Need People Are the Luckiest People

Dear People Who:

Raising $15,000 from 53 people is quite impressive! You will want to segment your current donors so that people who gave you sizable gifts are given the attention they need. It looks like you have some very loyal and generous donors.

It sounds as though board brainstorming hasn’t worked too well for you; usually that does yield some names. If board members are asked to address envelopes with the names they brainstorm during the board meeting and if they also write a personal note on the mail appeal, the chances of a positive response go up exponentially.

I would also go through the other 147 people in your database and see who of them should be called and asked to renew. Then, send a letter to the 53 people who helped you and ask them to list friends and colleagues would be interested in your work. Include a return form that allows people to write in names and addresses or to request appeal packets to send out themselves.

Once you have exhausted all those avenues, you are ready to reach out to similar organizations to discuss trading mailing lists. Eventually, if your group wants to expand its list of donors very quickly through direct mail or an online campaign you may want to explore renting customized lists from mailing list providers. (You can get lots of information about mailing lists and other direct mail and online techniques from my book, Fundraising for Social Change, and from Ellis Robinson’s excellent Nonprofit Membership Toolkit (which has good advice even for groups that don’t have members) (both Kim and Ellis’ books can be found here: www.josseybass.com/WileyCDA/Section/id-290020.html), any books by Mal Warwick or Stephen Hitchcock (http://malwarwick.net/staff.html#Steve). Also, check out the websites and e-newsletters of both Mal (www.malwarwick.com) and a firm called DonorDigital (www.donordigital.com), which will give you information on more virtual forms of fundraising.)

The other alternative is for your group to concentrate on building relationships with donors, in which case you will grow more slowly, but you are more likely to retain more of your donors along the way.

Good luck.

–Kim Klein