Your Inner Circle

In the larger conversation about fundraising, the most important element is often overlooked. No, it’s not how do I make an ask, it’s who are we bringing to the table. Board members, understandably, don’t want to focus on their friends. Suspects—those we have no connection with—are often appealing, but unrealistic. So who are our prospects and how do we get them involved? The first place to look, of course, is those closest to you—your board, your staff, your clients. Yes. Even if your clients are not the usual suspects because of financial situations, getting them to participate is a compelling story to tell those with greater capacity. Think how moving it is to hear, “So important is our work that our clients—many of whom are at or below the poverty level—support us with a charitable gift and the gift of their time.” Who wouldn’t want to be involved with such an organization?

Staff, too, is often overlooked. We neither ask them for a gift—generally on the grounds that they already are giving by getting lower salaries (an issue for another blog—nor do we ask them who they know who might be interested in becoming involved with us.

This is a great mistake. Our staff, more than anyone, knows about the good works we do, and how much more we could accomplish if only our funding was more robust.

Included in this inner circle, of course, are our donors, current and past. These people are already engaged, or have been engaged at some point. It is our job to (re)engage them and get them more entrenched in our organization. An enduring truth of fundraising is that the best prospect is an existing donor—if you’ve treated them well.

Treating donors well does not mean giving them trinkets or special perks. It does mean making them aware of what is happening on the ground at your organization. Showing them the value of their generosity and recognizing their commitment. Yes, that means thanking them, but more it means making them aware of what their gift means on a daily basis to your organization.

Treating donors well also means recognizing that they are above all people who care about who you are and what you do and engaging them as fully as possible in that work. It means connecting with them to provide information, ask for advice or feedback, inviting them to become closer in a myriad of ways. And asking them, not just for another gift but also for their connections, and their help in getting others involved.

As you mine your innermost circle you will find that rather than limiting your horizons, you are increasing the size of this circle as you bring those currently outside in.


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