Finding Engaged Donors

Effective fundraising is more important than efficient fundraising.  However, it is still important to be efficient whenever possible.  Finding an efficient way to identify donors who will become engaged donors will raise the effectiveness of your fundraising.

Fundraising events are about marketing your mission and raising community awareness of the needs of your clients, the services your nonprofit provides, and how your mission meaningfully, measurably, and durably changes lives.  The events are worth doing even when they are unprofitable.

One of our clients with a budget of about $600,000 runs an annual event that brings in $6,000 before expenses.  If all of the income was profit, it would take 100 events to fund the organization.  If the profit was $2,000, it would be a very efficient event (33% profit).  However, the return on the volunteer’s effort is less than $10 per hours and that excludes the time invested by the professionals.  If the professionals’ time is included in the profit/loss calculation, the event is operated at a loss.  In other words, as a fundraising activity, the event is a very inefficient use of resources even when it is ‘profitable’.

Since there are more effective ways to use the volunteers’ time, the only way the nonprofit can justify continuing to hold the event is by using the event for something other than fundraising.  One solution is to use the event for friendraising (finding prospective engaged donors).

Many of the people who attend fundraising events are there because of something other than passion for the mission.  They come to spend time with a friend, play golf, hear the speaker, or find a bargain at the silent auction.

Among the crowd are those who have yet to make a connection with the nonprofit but care deeply about the cause, mission, or clients.  They are the ones who have the potential to be engaged donors.  As you, your staff members, or board members are talking to attendees, here are indicators that you might be talking to a future engaged donor:

Care – They have a history of engaging with nonprofits similar to yours.  Perhaps they have a family member who has a related problem or they volunteered with at a nonprofit near their previous home.

Connection – Something in their history connects them to your cause, mission, clients, or services.  Perhaps they are in a profession that is connected in some way with your cause or clients.

Interest – They ask questions about your nonprofit, mission, clients, or services.  The other event attendees may ask one or two questions about your mission but care more about other topics.

Need – They hope your nonprofit can help them meet a need.  They may be looking for an opportunity to give back to their community.

All you should do during the event is find prospects and schedule a time to follow up.  Sometimes you will find someone you think is a prospect but when you try to schedule a follow-up meeting, they become reluctant.  Treat that as a false positive and move on.  It is inefficient to try to engage the disinterested.

Remember fundraising is never about the money.  It is always about the donors, mission, and clients.  Your mission should be the star of every event.  If you are unable to find any prospective engaged donors at an event, consider discontinuing the event or making it more mission centric and less entertaining.  Continuing with the event without changes is an inefficient use of your fundraising resources.  Ensuring that you find new prospective donors at every event is a way to increase the sustainability of your nonprofit and funding stream.

Next Step:

Measure the effectiveness of your fundraising events by the number of prospective engaged donors you meet rather than the profit or income generated

Capture the contact information for each of the prospective engaged donors

Diligently follow up with all prospective donors

Require regular attendees to bring a friend

Over time, donors can become attached to events and look forward to them.  That is good.  However, when it seems like everyone there is a long-time supporter, a new person can find it awkward.  The solution is to required donors who are attending for the third or more time to bring a friend who has never been before.  It also increases your prospect pool.

When events connect your mission with new engaged donors, the event is a success and a significant contributor to your nonprofit’s sustainability.  It is also confirmation that your mission is relevant and valued by your community.

Take It Further:

Remind your board members that their attendance at events is very important (their attendance says the event is important and the people at the event are important to your mission)

Train your board to recognize prospective engaged donors

Ask your board to capture the contact information for prospective engaged donors

Cultivate only those who want to be cultivated


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