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Donor Participation Project

Reversing the Trend: How to Find and Engage New Donors

Nonprofit fundraising has faced a steady decline in donor participation over the last few decades. However, fundraisers can take action to reverse this trend by prioritizing the identification and engagement of new donors.

According to fundraising expert Adam Platzer, the first step is to focus on qualifying new prospects through events, referrals, and faculty relationships. Events provide an opportunity to engage new donors in person, while referrals from existing donors and faculty members can uncover major gift prospects who are currently off the radar. The key is following up quickly after initial meetings to begin cultivating these new relationships.

Once new prospects have been identified, nonprofit fundraisers should develop strategic engagement plans to build affinity over time. Weinger recommends a tiered engagement model where donors start at a low level of commitment, like volunteering or mentoring students, and then progress up the pyramid as their passion and giving capacity grows. The closer donors get to the top levels, which may include joining the board of trustees, the more likely they are to make a major gift.

To solicit these new donors effectively, fundraisers should focus on the impact of the gift and stewardship of funds rather than the amount. Share videos and stories demonstrating how current programs change lives. Explain exactly how the donor’s gift will be used and recognized to inspire their philanthropy. Creative strategies like matching gift challenges, deadlines, and public announcements can also motivate new donors to give sooner and at a higher level.

The most important element, however, is developing strong internal relationships to drive fundraising success. Weinger argues that communication across departments, public recognition of colleagues’ contributions, and educating staff about the fundraising process builds trust in the development office and leads to more and bigger gifts over time. By following this holistic approach of identifying, engaging, and soliciting new donors through internal partnership, nonprofits can begin to reverse the trend of declining fundraising participation. Overall, the key to major gift success is collaboration, not competition.

View the full recording of this session in our Resource Library.

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