The Case for Building a Broad Base of Donors

Dear Kim,

We are being advised by a consultant to stop trying to build a broad base of donors and instead to focus on high net worth individuals and seek six figure gifts from them.  The consultant says it will be faster and more lucrative which makes sense to me.  Why do you advise focusing on small gifts?  

Seeking Efficiency and a High ROI

Dear Efficient,

My focus (and the focus of all good fundraisers) is on asking people you know for money, and then asking the people you know who they know who might also help you.  If you hang out with high net worth individuals who are also generous donors, then I would agree with your consultant that you should ask them.  But why would you only ask them?  Why not ask everyone you have access to who cares about your cause?  I have the feeling, though, that you don’t know these people which is why you are writing to me.  Your consultant will probably advise a number of ways of meeting these people and that will keep you busy.  In the meantime, you will not have small or big gifts.  Whatever strategy you choose, keep these things in mind: 

  1. Wealth has little relationship to generosity.  Many wealthy people give very generously, and many more give relatively little compared to their ability.  The same can be said for middle class, working class and poor people.  Don’t confuse having with giving.  
  2. You are not the first person to think of asking high net worth individuals for money.  These people are offered endless opportunities to give away their money and, like all people, are more likely to give to an organization where they know someone than an organization where they don’t.  
  3. A person’s ability to give changes over time.  People get better jobs or inherit money or make good investments.  Someone who starts out at $35 may, ten years from now, be your biggest donor.  But I can tell you that this person won’t be your biggest donor if you don’t respect the gift he or she gives now.  The same is true for your biggest donors:  the market crashes, their house goes underwater, they are a victim of a Ponzi scheme, and they have to stop giving.  

You want your fundraising to be efficient, and that is not a bad thing.  But fundraising is about building relationships, and relationships are based on respect, affection, shared interests, and so on.  Relationships are not built on efficiency.  Nor do donors love to be thought of as part of your ROI.  They want to be part of accomplishing your mission, and you may want to return to that in order to determine what fundraising strategies make the most sense for your organization.  

~Kim Klein