It’s Not About Money: Don’t Let Wealth Drive Your Prospecting

Image: Forbes 

Image: Forbes 

Has it ever been suggested to you to raise money from the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation? Or perhaps Mark Zuckerberg, or a wealthy individual in your community? The logic goes like this: 1) Mark Zuckerberg is wealthy; 2) He donates a lot of money; 3) We need money – and he donates money! – so maybe he’ll give some money to us.

Yep, I’ve heard this logic, often from new board members or others trying to be helpful. When you’re sitting around a table brainstorming prospect names for your fundraising, high-profile wealth is often the trigger that gets names flowing.

For folks new to fundraising, the high-profile-wealth logic makes sense. But in practice it often falls apart and here’s why:

Not everyone is philanthropic

Sometimes fundraisers think that everyone donates to charity. In fact, they may even believe that everyone should donate to charity. We’re so steeped in the culture of giving that we forget the rest of the world may not think the way we do. The truth is that not everyone is philanthropic – even those we see as “rich.”

And, everyone has the right to decide how, when and where to spend their own money. Don’t assume that just because someone is wealthy, they would be willing to donate it to your cause – or worse, they “should” donate to your cause.

Interest matters most

Demonstrated interest in your work and mission is what makes someone a prospective donor to your organization. People donate to the causes they care about, not the causes you care about – no matter how much money they have.

If your board insists on considering the list of Biggest-Donors-in-Town, don’t spend time researching each person on the list. Rather, start by narrowing the list to those who have shown interest in nonprofits like yours, or who have strong connections to your board or other friends of your organization.

The result will be a more targeted list – one in which to invest volunteer or staff research time in a more efficient way. Remember, donors want to be inspired. They want to change the world. You’re halfway there by finding prospects interested in the ways you are changing the world.

Don’t neglect current donors

Sometimes nonprofits are so focused on finding new prospects that they forget about their current donors. The donor retention rate for many nonprofits is abysmal – don’t be one of those organizations! (You can read Why You Should Stop Looking for New Donors for more on this topic.)

Also keep in mind, not everyone who makes a significant gift does so in a public manner – so your list of Biggest-Donors may be missing someone. Here’s where looking at your current donors can have a big impact.

You may be surprised to find significant capacity amongst your current supporters – supporters already invested in your cause and passionate about your mission. You simply need to build the relationship.

Smart prospecting is 3D

Strategically building a prospect list involves qualifying your prospects. Don’t skip this step!

What makes a prospect “good” is her strength in three different areas, not just one. Make judgments about your prospect in terms of:

1. Linkage (does anyone know her?)
2. Interest (had she demonstrated interest in your cause?)
3. Ability (what size gift is she capable of making?

Only prospects strong in ALL THREE categories should be at the top of your list.

Back to Mark Zuckerberg… good prospect for your nonprofit? After looking at Linkage, Interest and Ability, he’s probably not.

Do you agree or disagree? What are your thoughts on prospecting? Please share your thoughts or ideas in the Comments box below.

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