7 Practices to Focus on Individual Giving

A number of clients and colleagues understand the value of diversifying their revenue models.  Most of these organizations have been primarily dependent on institutional giving models (i.e., recipients of grants) and are starting to explore what success looks like in the individual giving arena.  Results in this arena take time, persistence and insistence on key practices.   Here are my top seven ideas for building sustainable and engaging partnerships with individual donors.   Good luck and let me know which ones are working for you!

  1. Stick to a relationship building rhythm. People give because they are asked to help.  Before inviting someone to invest in your work, one needs to build a relationship.  Telling the story in person over and over in a myriad of ways (one-on-one, small lunches, cocktail parties, etc.) builds rapport and comfort that people trust and want to be part of. Takeaway – Do you tape or rehearse your ‘story’ and adjust it to resonate with different audience?
  2. Explore prospecting opportunities.  All programs have ‘alumni’ who have benefited from the service provided by the organization, some of whom may have given and some who have never been asked.  As well, there is typically a parent (if higher education based), friend or other person connected to the beneficiary who saw the transformation created by your program. Takeaway - How often can you produce lists and share them with the leadership to determine who hasn’t yet been engaged or who they might like to know more about?  
  3. Set goals for meetings and conversations.  What gets measured gets attended to, what gets attended to gets done.  Conversations are always opportunities for the organization to learn about the donor or the prospect’s values and ideals. Takeaway – How much time do you allocate for downloading your meetings so they are put into a database record and/or utilized to determine how best to engage someone in the mission and work?
  4. Create a communications calendar to engage with key people.  Every organization has an ‘inner circle’ of long time donors (3-5 years or more of giving), program alumni, current or former board members, celebrities, planned gift donors, long term serving staff, major donors (at an amount that is relative to the organization).  For every trip, event or mailing, examine if you want to visit or pull this group list for a mailing and personalize in some manner.  Takeaway – Have you set up an inner circle query on your database and how do you uniquely steward this group?
  5. Formalize a ‘posse’ or advisory council.  With organizations that do not have a traditional fundraising Board or need to expand the work of their Board, harnessing the ideas and connections of an advisory board or other group of connected people to expand the reach of the work.  Takeaway – Is there a group of 5-7 people who you reach out to on a quarterly basis to get their ideas on strategies, opportunities and events and people to engage with?  
  6. Encourage leadership to ask for help and advice.  Often, long serving or highly competent CEO/ED’s feel they have arrived or see asking for help as a weakness.  To be successful, a good organization will have leadership that has at least 5-6 ways to invite a donor to offer their time, talent or treasure.  Remember the mantra, “Ask for money and you get advice; ask for advice and you get money.”  Takeaway – How many different ways can you invite input, ideas, connections, and resources?
  7. Conduct ongoing database analysis and research.  The database is the biggest asset of most organizations and the least invested in.  There are tools (donor research database overlays) that can be utilized to assess the giving potential of donors.  Takeaway - Is there a full-time position or allocation of at least 20-30 hours per/week of a staff member’s time who is continually doing queries, pulling lists and conducting analysis of records and the content in the records (not data entry)?