The Best Place to Find New Donor Prospects for Your Non-Profit

Almost every non-profit organization wants to find new prospects to keep their donor funnel full. Without new prospects coming into the pipeline, there won’t be anybody to cultivate, you won’t be able to make any asks, and ultimately, your events, direct mail, and fundraising campaigns will fail.

Simply put, your organization needs to be constantly finding new prospects and putting them into your cultivation system. But where can you find a steady stream of new prospects year in, year out, who are at least open to hearing about your mission?

The single best place to find new donor prospects is inside your current donors’ rolodexes.

Think In Terms of “Two Asks”

While we development professionals spend a lot of time talking about making asks, we’re generally only talking about the “first ask,” which is asking for money. We meet new prospects, cultivate them, and then, when the time is right, ask them to support our organizations with monetary gifts.

Far too often, we don’t ever get to the “second ask,” which is just as important as the first one: “Who else do you know who might be interested in learning more about our organization?” This second ask will form the major portion of your strategy for finding a never-ending supply of new prospects.

Of course, you don’t want to make both asks at once… cultivate your donors, and then ask them to make a monetary gift. Then steward them, and keep getting them more involved. Later, as part of your stewardship process, you should ask them to open up their own rolodex to help you find new donors for your non-profit.

Think Like a Salesperson

Doing fundraising is different from being a salesman in many ways… but there are a number of ways in which development professionals can learn from our counterparts in the sales world. One such concept we can learn from salespeople is the idea of a “referral.”

Good salespeople are constantly asking their current customers and others in their network for referrals… introductions to people that might also want to buy the product or service the salesman is selling. You’d be surprised at just how often current customers will refer new customers to their salesperson. In fact, in many businesses (such as real estate and insurance), referrals can make up a majority of a salesperson’s new business each year.

Of course, when great salespeople ask for referrals, they aren’t asking just for a name. They want their current client to introduce them to their friends and colleagues by way of a meeting, a call, or at least an e-mail. This type of introduction reinforces to the new prospects that the salesperson is trustworthy and has a great product that might be helpful.

When Was the Last Time You Asked for Referrals?

When was the last time you talked with your current donors to ask them to open up their own rolodexes and introduce you to their friends, neighbors, clients, vendors, and colleagues? And no, asking for “new names” in the middle of a board meeting or event host committee meeting doesn’t count. What I mean is… how many of your board members and donors have you sat with, one-on-one, as part of a cultivation meeting, and directly asked, “Can you introduce me to two or three of your colleagues who might also be interested in learning more about our work?”

If you’re not doing that, it is highly likely that you are having trouble keeping your prospect pipeline full. I always advise every non-profit I work with to make the “second ask” (or the “referral ask”) a standard part of the cultivation / stewardship process for donors and friends.

So, to summarize, the best sources of new donor prospects for your non-profit are your current donors, supporters, volunteers, friends and board members. Cultivate them right, then ask for referrals, and watch your prospect list skyrocket!

If you’re looking another voice asking fundraisers to start looking for referrals on a regular basis, Kevin Strickland wrote about referrals in a recent GuideStar article: Why Aren’t Fundraisers Asking For Referrals?