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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, ask each of your nonprofit 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 you ask your board members to produce a list in that way, it’s unlikely that they will exhaust all 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 more names.

To develop this “starter list,” think about your board members and their probable networks and connections. Say, for instance, that your nonprofit is lucky enough to have a local business leader on its board of directors.

Searching online and scouring the business sections of local newspapers can reveal a variety of connections, such as the board member’s business partners and suppliers; members of his professional associations, clubs, or other boards; and his close neighbors. Everyone, no matter how modestly he or she lives, has a web of professional and personal connections.

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, 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 board members’ contacts to respond: Provide a simple form for them to fill out and a self-addressed, stamped envelope, or link an e-mailed request to an easy-to-use donation page on your website. If you send your query by e-mail, 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, as well as for mail and e-mail campaigns and event invitations.

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