The Ultimate Guide to Finding New Prospects for Your Non-Profit

Every non-profit organization needs a steady stream of new donor prospects. In this article, I’m going to tell you how to find them. There are a lot of links in this article – each of them leads to a complete article on particular aspects of the prospecting process.

Before we begin, it’s important to understand that while finding new prospects is important, so is keeping (and upgrading) the donors you already have. For more on how to do that, read How to Get a 2nd Gift from New Donors and How to Upgrade Your Donors.

Ok, with that out of the way, let’s talk about why your non-profit needs a constant stream of prospects, and how you can get them.

Why New Prospects Matter

Your non-profit may have a huge donor file. You might have thousands of donors who give every year, and a fantastic stewardship plan in place to keep them giving. Even so, you still need new prospects. Let’s face it – no matter how hard you try, donors fall off your list. They move, die, change priorities, lose their jobs… there are dozens of reasons why donors stop giving. The only way for your organization to keep growing is to keep replacing them with new donors.

Or, perhaps your non-profit is small (or brand new). You don’t have a huge donor base, but you’ve got big plans and a strong vision for the future. You need funding to accomplish that vision. Rather than focusing on grantwriting (which is time consuming and extremely fickle), the best way to grow your funding is to find new individual donors and cultivate them effectively.

Large or small, new organization or old… you need new prospects if you want your non-profit to thrive. If you’re wondering how many prospects your organization needs, read How Many Prospects Do You Need?

What Makes a Good Prospect?

It is very important to remember that not every person you come across is a good prospect for your non-profit. I know it is fashionable at some organizations to say, “the world is our prospect,” or “everyone is a prospect if you talk to them the right way.” But it’s not really true – if you consider everyone you meet as a good strong prospect, you’ll waste lots of time cultivating people who will never, ever give to your non-profit.

In order to be considered an actual, bona fide prospect for your organization, a person must meet three criteria:

First, the person must fit your organization’s profile. This means that the person must have an affinity for your work and ideally be similar to other donors to your non-profit.

Second, the person must have the capacity to give. This means that they can afford to make a gift to your organization at a level which makes it worth the time and energy you will need to put in to cultivate the person.

Third, the person much be “reachable” by your organization. This means that your non-profit must have an easy way to make contact with person. Cold calls and cold letters don’t work very well. On the other hand, referrals from people who already support your non-profit are a great way to make contact with a new potential donor.

For more information on all three of these criteria, read What Makes Someone a Good Fundraising Prospect for Your Non-Profit?

The Best Place to Find New Donor Prospects

There are lots of ways to find new fundraising prospects for your organization. In my experience the absolute best way to find new prospects, though, is by seeking out referrals from your current donors, volunteers, board members, staff members and other supporters.

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.

Guess what? Referrals work well for non-profits, too. Great fundraising organizations are constantly asking current donors and supporters for introductions to new people who might be interested in supporting the organization. When was the last time you asked your donors for referrals?

To learn how to find new prospects through referrals, read The Best Place to Find New Donors Prospects for Your Non-Profit.

The Second Best Place to Find New Donor Prospects

Of course, referrals aren’t the only great way to find new prospects. Another tactic that works extremely well for non-profits of all sizes is to hold “non-ask” events.

A non-ask event is an event, held by your non-profit, that targets donors and prospects, but does not include any fundraising ask or cost of admission for attendees. Non-ask events are sometimes called “Introductory Events,” or “Point of Entry Events.” The goal of these events is to introduce new prospects to your organization without asking for money.

For non-ask events, the fortune is in the follow-up. Once a prospect attends an event (your event can be as simple as a tour of your office, or as fancy as a cocktail party at a local restaurant) your staff can follow-up with them, cultivate them, and walk them down the donor funnel until they are ready for an ask.

Non-ask events are one of my favorite ways to find new prospects for non-profits. To learn more, read How to Hold a Non-Ask Event.

Other Ways to Find Prospects

In my experience, asking for referrals and holding non-ask events on a regular basis are the two best ways to find new prospects for any organization. Yet most non-profits aren’t doing either.

Once your organization is proficient in asking for referrals and holding non-ask events, you can add other prospecting tools into the mix, including:


Prospect – Cultivate – then Ask.

As you work to increase your prospect base, remember this fundamental rule of fundraising: you always need to cultivate your donors before you make an ask. This means that you should never jump right from meeting a new prospect to making an ask, no matter how enthusiastic the prospect may seem.

Fundraising is a marathon, not a sprint… your goal is to form lifelong relationships with your donors, not score quick, one-off donations from donors who will never give to your organization again.

Photo Credits: Strelka Institute