How to Engage Your Nonprofit’s Board of Directors in Potential Donor Identification
Every year, or before you start work on a special event or letter-writing campaign to raise funds for your nonprofit, ask each of your organization’s board members to provide the names of ten or more people they know. This exercise is useful for developing a solicitation list.
Most people can sit down and list ten friends and associates off the top of their heads. However, when asked to produce a list in that way, it’s unlikely that they will exhaust all their connections and relationships. If you hand board members starter lists of people they may know and then ask them to edit and add to that list, you’re likely to get many more names.
To develop this starter list, think about your board members and their probable networks and connections. For instance, if your nonprofit has a local business leader on its board of directors, searching the web and scouring local business pages to note this leader’s affiliations can bring up a variety of connections, including business partners and suppliers; members of professional associations, clubs, or other boards; and close neighbors.
The next step in developing your organization’s network of connections is to address personalized letters from your board members to the people on their lists of ten, providing each of those people with an opportunity to find out more about your organization and to contribute.
When asking for their help, make it easy for your contacts to respond: Provide a form for them to fill out and a self-addressed, stamped envelope or link to an online donation service to convey their responses. You may want to save postage by sending your query by e-mail. If you do, make sure the subject line is compelling and the sender is someone the recipient knows.
After you have your list of contacts, you can use it as the basis for a face-to-face individual donor campaign, for mailings, and for event invitations. As you talk to your board members and their friends about their connections, find out as much as you can about how you can best approach these people.
The cause for which you’re seeking money matters, your timing matters, and your organization’s reputation matters, but the most important element in raising money from an individual is to have someone he knows and trusts ask for the contribution.
This fact is particularly true when it comes to major gift fundraising, where individuals ask other individuals (usually face to face) to make significant contributions, and special events fundraising (because most people are more comfortable socializing with people they know).