How to Earn More Donor Referrals

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The most frequent question I get from fundraisers is “Where do I find new donors?” or board members, or event volunteers, etc.

My answer is almost always the same:  “That’s easy, from the ones you already have.”  No matter what type of individual you are looking for the best new ones are the friends and contacts of your current ones.  People tend to associate with like minded people, so it only makes sense that your current donors and volunteers hang out with other folks that would make great donors and volunteers.

So, you’re essentially looking for referrals.  But referrals don’t come automatically, you have to earn them.  You earn them by making the process easy.  This starts by knowing exactly what you’re looking for.   Take a look at your top 25 donors and search for commonalities.  Are they around a certain age?  Predominantly one gender?  Have an interest in the same topic?  Work in related industries?  These commonalities will form a profile of the type of person you are looking for.

Next, you need a way to engage prospects in your charity’s work.  This is best accomplished through periodic introductory events (quarterly typically works well).  These are not lavish donor receptions.  These are simple events, typically hosted at your facility, which introduce people to your charity and show them the work that you do.  It can involve a tour, remarks from a beneficiary, a welcome from the CEO, etc. I find that 5 to 6:30pm on a weeknight works best as folks can squeeze you in right after work.  A few bottles of wine and some simple hors d’ oeuvres always make the event go smoother as well.  The biggest key with these events is that there is NO ASK at them … they are educational and the start of a relationship — they do not raise money (at least not that evening).

Once these two pieces are in place, you can begin to ask your current donors for referrals.  You don’t ask everyone, you ask donors that you have a strong relationship with and that are actively engaged in the life of your organization (e.g. current and former board members).  To begin the process, explain that your organization is looking to grow its support base and is in need of a few new donors.  Then ask, “do you know of anyone else that might have an interest in our cause?”  They will most likely say “no” or “no one immediately comes to mind” — that’s when you pull out the two tools that you’ve built.

First the donor profile … you can reply with “that’s understandable” and then say “let me paint you a picture of who we’re looking for.”  Then review the characteristics of your ideal donor.  They’ll  begin to review their network as you’re speaking and will most likely think of a few folks.  But they’re scared, they don’t know if they can trust you … they don’t know what will happen next.

That’s when the second tool comes out … the introductory event.  This is where you explain to your donors what happens next in the referral process.  You share how the organization has these periodic events where individuals can come and learn about the organization.  Stress that there is NO ASK made at these events.  They are simply educational.  The donor can bring the prospect with them as a guest or extend the invitation and not attend.

Knowing exactly who you’re looking for and what happens next makes your donors more likely to give you referrals.  It allows them to find matches for your charity in their network and conquers their fear that you’re instantly going to hit up all their friends as soon as they give you a list.  So take some time to develop these tools and begin earning your donor referrals.

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