How to Find New Donors for Your Fundraising Program


Last week, I outlined how to use your donor database to identify prospective donors for your major gifts program. But what if your organization is brand new and you have only a handful of current supporters—or none at all?

You can start a donor prospect list by engaging your staff, board, and other stakeholders in what I call the “Circles of Connection” exercise. This exercise works well if you’re a new start-up nonprofit organization building a list from scratch. It also works for adding new prospects to your current list.

Gather your tribe

Start by gathering together a group of board members, major gifts committee members, and other key volunteers for your organization. Give each person a blank sheet of paper. Ask them to write their name in the center of the page with a circle around it and draw lines out from this circle, like the spokes of a wheel.

How do they connect?

Then ask them to think about the places they connect with other people in their lives. Perhaps they’re part of a book group, yoga class or running club. Maybe their child plays soccer and they know other soccer moms and dads. Have them write down each of these places at the end of a “spoke” and draw a circle around the place name.

Finally, ask your participants to consider each of these places and think about people they connect with there who might be interested in learning more about your organization. They can write down people’s names next to each circle of connection.

Tip: Do NOT tell them to think about people who might donate to your organization. They are simply thinking of people they know who may be interested in the good work of your organization.

Yes, you may very well ask these folks for support eventually. But certainly not before getting to know them and seeing if they are interested in your mission. Fundraising is about connecting people with causes they care about. It’s not about strong-arming someone you don’t know into making a donation!

Follow up individually

At the end of the exercise, be sure to collect the completed Circles of Connection worksheets. You can then follow up individually with each participant to talk about the connections they’ve identified and ways you might introduce these connections to your organization.

You can also do this exercise with staff members and others invested in your work and mission.

What suggestions do you have for building a prospect list? Please share in the Comments box below. Your fellow fundraisers and I thank you!

If you'd like proven fundraising tips and ideas delivered every week to your inbox, sign up here. You’ll also receive a free gift, my step-by-step guide, Conquer Your Fear of Asking for Money