Originally published in Los Angeles Business Journal

It might seem like most donors are big foundations or businesses, but according to CauseVox, 80 percent of donors are individuals. This is why it is important for nonprofits to develop strategies focused on building their individual donor base. Below are some tips that may seem simple but are too often overlooked or ignored by nonprofit organizations.


Build a list of potential donors. According to sgENGAGE, data on nonprofits’ databases and mailing lists should provide solid leads. Then define why each potential donor is interested in the nonprofit.

Reasons include:

  • Know someone affected by the cause
  • Know someone involved they would like to spend time with
  • Want to make a difference
  • Aligns with their values
  • Business motivation (building resume, networking or gaining leadership experience)

It is also important to track how invested they and if they feel a personal connection.


Continuous communication through personal contact, newsletters, blogs, podcasts and emails is the building block for great relationships. Additionally, create individualized action plans centered on validating specific needs or wants. For example, if the potential donor is a fan of a particular art form, make sure they have special invitations and seats to performances. The key is to expose them to what ties them to the organization’s mission.

According to Forbes, just asking for donations constantly can be off-putting, so arrange “special moments,” such as private lunches or special performances. These make the inevitable ask easier because the organization has gone the extra mile to build a strong relationship. And be sure to say “thank you” often.


Because it takes great relationships to generate great donations, there are a few things to keep in mind to be successful:

  • Repeat: Every person should know the mission and repeat it often.
  • Understand: Know the donors and their motivations and appeal directly to that.
  • Connect: Create deeper connections to potential donors by telling personal stories about one’s own reasons for supporting.
  • Proof: Use performance statistics to make the case and build credibility.
  • Credibility: Produce a steady stream of communications and have leaders speak at events and participate in public service groups.
  • Leverage: Ask donors for referrals and to reach out to their networks on the non profit’s behalf.
  • Ask: Request donations through letters, calls, meetings, fundraising events, GoFundMe campaigns and more.
  • Cultivate: Get in early, even if donors are not presently in a position to give, such as creating young professional groups that build loyalty.

Remember that donors are actually investors in a social cause. Supporting the organization is a way for them to help meet a need, so always make sure they see how their investment pays off.

Mari Anne Kehler WEBSITE Standing

Mari-Anne Kehler

Mari-Anne Kehler, CDP, is a member of GHJ’s Executive Committee and leads firm growth strategy, especially in relation to business development and marketing. She is also Strategist for GHJ Foundation, GHJ’s vehicle for purposeful and proactive giving to the community, and Global Leader, Client…Learn More