The trend is clear: if you want to raise money for your organization in today’s economy, you need to know what individuals to ask for donations. While philanthropy as a whole is on the rise in the US, the majority of funding, and nearly all of the fundraising increase, is coming from rich American philanthropists. 

The Chronicle of Philanthropy reports that the most successful 400 US charities last year managed to raise 11% more money, and nearly all of it came from individual donors. In just two years, Silicon Valley’s Mark Zuckerberg gave $1.5 billion to one foundation!

While anyone can track which foundations or corporations are donating more or less with free data on the Internet, how do you know who has the resources to give, as well as the impetus? Try these tricks to focus your prospect list on the ablest!


woman asking

Ask past donors and friends

Always start with your best donors from the past and present, including your board members and volunteers. Even if they have less money to give, they will most likely give what they can to you anyway because you are already a part of their budget and an important part of their lives.

Look for help from your friends

One of the best ways to attract new major gifts is to ask your top board members or volunteers to refer their friends. They know best whose pockets are full, even in the toughest of economic climates, as well as who will be most interested in the cause. The social pressure of a friend asking them to give as opposed to a Development Director makes it much more likely they will invest in you.

Here are a few different ways to go about eliciting referrals from your board members or top supporters:

  1. Ask your board members to each refer at least five donor prospects if they personally cannot increase their giving this year. It makes them feel better to fundraise if they cannot give themselves!
  2. Create a competition for the board member that raises the most money. You can offer a free mission-oriented trip to the winner, an art print from your museum gift store, or other interesting prize you can conjure.
  3. Ask your board members if one of them will agree to make a challenge grant. If everyone else pitches in a $1,000, she will give twice as much this year!
  4. Ask them to throw a party at their house and invite a few colleagues. The classic nonprofit cocktail party meet-and-greet is still the most effective way to build your prospect list.

Ask your nonprofit neighbors’ supporters

Check the annual reports of likeminded nonprofits in your area. Invite them to a party, or to have lunch with your executive director. You can also try to get invited to their galas and parties to make friends with their supporters and donors in person.

Partner with your nonprofit neighbors

You can directly partner with your nonprofit friends on projects to split the gifts of their donors. This is a much more collaborative approach than poaching and can help make your organization stronger on both financial and program levels.

Research top corporations in your area

Make a quick list of the top corporations in your area, and then research who is returning high profits. You can tell who is earning with data on the Internet – try Bloomberg‘s free earnings calendar and databases. Then look at their top executives. They probably got the biggest bonuses in the area last year!

Quick internet searches might tell you if those potential prospects have given to any other organizations and what their hobbies are. You should try to get a meeting with anyone that might fit with your mission. Younger, newly rich business people look for boards and organizations to support to build their resumes and just might pick yours if you knock on their door.

Even in a fuzzy economy, some people still have plenty to give. The secret to good fundraising is doing the research and the relationship building beforehand to get to those that are the ablest as opposed to wasting your time searching for dollars in empty pockets!

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