Building An Individual Fundraising Program

Helping nonprofit build an individual fundraising program pretty much from the ground up is the bulk of my consulting business—and typically it takes a lot longer than one blog posting.  But if you are looking to move from raising funds via event and/or grants only to a more relationship-based fundraising, here are a few steps to get you started:

  A.  Making sure you are touching everyone on your database at least 4 times a year, with at least two of those times inviting them inside in some way, shape or form.  It could be a newsletter than offers “insider” information, a personal letter, a telephone call.

B.  If you are geographic specific, consider an open house so you can meet as many prospective donors as possible and start cultivating them.

C.  Start educating your board—you need their help.  Find one or two who understand the value of individual donors and who are willing to work with you.  And then spread the word about any and all successes—and do define success broadly.

D.  If you only have addresses—letters are the way to start.  Not direct mail type letters, but personal ones.  Are they donors (at any level)?  Start with a Dear (NAME):  One of the best things about my job as development director (Or whatever your title is) is the opportunity to get to know our donors.  Because of you and your generosity, …. and tell them about some impact the work your organization does has had.  Then say something like, “I would love to have the opportunity to show you first-hand how your gift has made a difference, and to learn more about what matters to you.  (Here, I would arrange for several small gatherings to tour your facility, meet a program officer or a client, meet with you to lunch and learn, whatever works in your environment—so something like, “On January 24 and again on March 15th, we are hosting……and it would be wonderful if you could attend.  Please call me at or email me and let me know which date works best for you.”

E.  These small, intimate gatherings are a wonderful way to start the cultivation process, get to know existing donors—and meet new people, either by asking each donor to bring a friend, or ask your board to invite their friends.

F.  Ask your board members to host a house party.  If you don’t know what a house party is or how to have one, go to and click on How to Have a Fabulous House Party)

G.  Follow up with every person you meet; every event you have.  Share with all of them the many opportunities you can provide for them to become a part of your organization.

These are just general ideas;  I find that each organization has a different culture and that defines what will work. Always remember that the closer you get to your donors and prospects, the more likely they are to become and remain donors and to make larger gifts.  So think about ways you can get close and that won’t be impossibly time consuming. And above all, remember that no one will say yes if you don't invite them to invest their time, their talents, their treasures (and their tentacles!) with you.


Janet Levine works with nonprofits and educational organizations, helping them to increase their fundraising capacity and build more engaged boards.  Learn how Janet can help you and your organization at or email her directly at