Engaging Suspects

funnelsA reader asked if I have “new strategies to take lists of people I have that I know are interested in our type of nonprofit but I don’t have a referral or a direct connection….But I do have a really good reason to believe they are worth reaching out to, warming up and then asking (giving them an opportunity to get into my funnel)”

“New” I’m not so sure about, but yes, I think there are ways to reach out to these not quite prospects (those you have reason to believe have Linkage-Interest--Ability, and to whom you have Access) but more than suspects (those missing one or more of those three).

You can, of course, simply cold call—and I addressed that in this post   But as I discovered when I sold insurance, cold calling tends to follow the 100-1 rule.  That is, for every 100 people you ask, one may be interested in talking to you.  Worse, making 100 calls doesn’t guarantee 1 interested person—it may take you 500 calls and then you may get 5 potential whatevers.

There has to be a better way—and I think there is.

As with all things fundraising, start by considering commonalities. Find out as much as you can about that person, especially his or her philanthropic interests. I once discovered (by reading the playbill at a concert) that someone I wanted to connect with was a big supporter of the Master Chorale that I loved.  That had nothing to do with my organization, but I sent him a letter the next day, thanking him for supporting something that gave me so much pleasure, and asked if we could chat so I could tell him about another organization that might please him.  He responded favorably and over a number of years, became a nice sized donor to us.

Believing strongly that people give when they are connected, I look hard for ways that will create that connection.  I’ve asked those I wanted to get involved to speak to a group of students or clients or other donors on subjects in which I knew they had expertise.  Where possible, I asked them to become a judge, or help us award scholarships. Or be part of a focus group on a topic I thought would be of interest to them or where they actually could bring something important to the table.  Inviting these suspects to something—be my guest at an event or come for a tour—is nice, but getting them to do something is so much better.

And when they do, I make sure I have a clear follow-up program, which, I shouldn’t have to say but will, is NOT asking them to support our organization.  There are many more steps that need to be taken.

Untitled The fundraising process starts with identifying those you think could be prospects and learning as much as you can about them.  Then you must get them interested and involved in your organization.  Too often we think that all we have to do is send them our newsletter, tell them how wonderful we are and presto! They will become donors.

Sadly, that is not generally true.  Instead of sending them a newsletter, you might consider asking them to write an article for your newsletter.  Instead of telling them about you let them shine.  And show them how they make a difference.  Once they see that, they will want to give not just of their time and their talent but also of their treasure.


Janet Levine works with nonprofits, helping move them from mired to inspired.  Let her help your organization increase your fundraising capacity and get your board more engaged with the work you do.  Learn more at www.janetlevineconsulting.com  And while there, sign up for the newsletter.