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Finding new and different donors

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Examine internal readiness, then experiment, experts say.

By Ret Boney

Finding new types and groups of donors may be as much about understanding and challenging your own organization as it is about unearthing new prospects, experts say.

But once you’ve gotten your shop in order, there are a host of new tools and strategies to experiment with.

After determining which groups in your community to target, it’s important to look within your own organization for individuals who can create a bridge to new prospects, says Shilpa Patel, assistant vice president of client services for the Foundation for the Carolinas in Charlotte.

STAFF AND BOARD

First, that means assessing, and sometimes creating, diversity within your staff and board, she says.

“If people feel you don’t understand where they’re coming from as a donor, they’re not going to respond very well,” she says.

The current staff and board of her community foundation are fairly diverse, says Patel, and its efforts to reach out to diverse communities through giving circles have deepened its reach.

The foundation’s Collective Giving program, which manages giving circles for women, young leaders, teens and venture philanthropists, is another way of targeting diverse audiences while building the foundation’s internal expertise, says Holly Welch Stubbing, senior vice president for client services.

Together the circles have awarded a total of almost $1 million since their inception, a total of $353,000 in 2006 alone, and a new African-American giving circle is in development.

The foundation is now participating in a fund targeting Hispanics that has awarded $1.3 million statewide, and its new Charlotte Lesbian and Gay Fund plans to begin awarding grants in the near future.

Money aside, those circles and funds have facilitated critical relationships within each of those communities.

“We’ve done a great job getting those people involved on a very grassroots level,” Stubbing says.

Those contacts will be critical as the foundation develops a three-year plan to target high-net-worth donors from diverse communities, she says.

CULTURAL COMPETENCY

That connection and familiarity are critical in developing successful relationships with diverse audiences, and Daria Teutonico of the Forum of Regional Associations of Grantmakers, believes the effort must start from within.

“Cultural competency is ‘the’ core competency organizations need when they’re reaching out to these diverse communities,” says Teutonico, director of the Forum’s New Ventures in Philanthropy program.

“It’s not just trying to understand communities and their issues and needs, but also understanding what you don’t know,” she says.

In November, her group launched its Racial, Ethnic, Tribal Philanthropy Knowledge Center, an online toolkit to help grantmakers improve their partnerships with diverse groups.

In developing the center, Teutonico says, she heard repeatedly that many efforts to connect mainstream philanthropies with diverse groups have failed because of a lack of political will.

“Part of the reason is they don’t have any real intention to change anything in their own organizations,” she says.

INTERNAL READINESS

Fundraising consultant Mark Rovner agrees that internal readiness is critical.

Before spending a nonprofit’s precious resources, he recommends conducting research to determine which audiences may have a natural interest in your organization and how they may need to be communicated with differently than existing donors.

“Make sure any new effort is brimming with the same passion and focus that has been the key to your success in the past,” says Rovner, president of Sea Change Strategies, a consultancy whose clients include the Monterey Bay Aquarium and the Environmental Defense Fund.

“Conveying what you’re about in a powerful way is the most important thing a fundraiser does, regardless of your vehicle or audience,” he says.

As technology advances, there are more and more tools available for nonprofits to try, and Rovner encourages experimentation.

Rather than putting all resources behind the latest new fad, try several routes and see what works.

“The worst that can happen is you’ll recruit more of your traditional donors,” he says.  “And that’s not a bad thing.”

WEB TOOLS

The emergence of new web-based technologies also has opened up ways to find different donors.

Tom Krackeler, senior vice president of online-fundraising company GetActive Software, says that while fewer than 5 percent of donations are made online, about two in three gifts are from people who have had some web-based interaction with the group they give to.

To find those people, he suggests going to them through the web.

“Organizations need to go out and find potential donors on the web where they are already spending their time,” he says.  “Nonprofits should push the organization’s messages and content out to where people are.”

More and more organizations have “let go of the reins a bit,” allowing their supporters to engage in online dialogues about nonprofits with their friends and colleagues, a move Krackeler says is winning them new constituents.

And he’s also a proponent of experimentation, assuming it’s integrated with a group’s overall fundraising strategy.

“Put out a line in each of these,” he says of emerging trends like YouTube and social networking.  “See which of them seem to work and then decide how to allocate resources.”

Rovner agrees.

“It would be dangerous to ignore these tools,” says Rovner.  “Fundraisers have to strike a balance between tried-and-true and wildly experimental and they need to do both.”

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