In the nonprofit world, timing with a donor prospect is everything — especially when it comes to asking a supporter to take the next step and become a donor.
Ask too early, and you’ll likely come off as preoccupied with dollars and cents rather than focused on your cause. Ask too late, and you may miss out on the perfect window of opportunity when a supporter is most receptive to a donation ask.
What can you do to make sure you’re making the right moves to transform your casual supporters — those who signed up for your email newsletter, follow you on social media, or attended an event — into fully engaged donors?
Whether you’re trying to convert committed volunteers into monthly donors or looking for major donor prospects within your current donor base, these tips will help you hone your timing and give you a better chance of hearing a “Yes!” when you ask for a donation.
Conduct Donor Prospect Research
Prospect research is the process of discovering new donors for your nonprofit. Typically the process is used to find new major donors that aren’t yet part of your organization’s community. But you can use prospect research best practices to evaluate your current supporters and determine if they may be ready to make a donation and, if so, the donation size you should request.
With prospect research, you look for capacity, affinity, and philanthropic markers to signal that you’ve found an individual who may be a viable prospect for a donation ask.
Capacity markers are also known as wealth markers, and can include:
- Real estate ownership
- SEC transactions
- Business affiliations
- Political giving history
Affinity markers tell you how an individual might feel about supporting your specific cause. These can include:
- General nonprofit involvement history (board service, volunteering, event attendance, etc.)
- Personal information like values and interests
Philanthropic markers give you insight into the monetary contributions they’ve made to philanthropic causes. So, you’ll want to look for:
- Donations to nonprofits with similar missions
It’s important to take into consideration not just how much your supporters can give but also how committed they are to your cause. A supporter that exhibits both kinds of markers will likely be more receptive to a donation ask in the near future.
You may be wondering, “Where do I find this information?” First, turn to your nonprofit’s CRM to evaluate your current data. Look at the information you’ve gathered so far on your supporters, whether that includes contact information, communication preferences, or volunteering history.
Then, turn to outside tools. The right research solutions will help you fill in the gaps and get a fuller picture of who your supporters are, why they care about your cause, and what they may be able to give. According to DonorSearch, some solutions even offer leading-edge AI tools to help you further qualify your supporters and streamline the outreach process.
Who would you rather do a favor for — an acquaintance you don’t talk to that often, or your aunt who calls you once a week, always sends you a birthday card, and regularly invites you to Sunday dinner?
You’d probably be more inclined to help out your aunt because you have a stronger relationship with her than you do with your acquaintance. Keep this principle in mind as you work to transform supporters into donor prospects — root all of your efforts in relationship-building. This will help ensure that when that supporter does give their first donation, it won’t be their last.
Here are some relationship-building tips to implement in your outreach efforts:
Communication is key in any relationship. And in your nonprofit’s case, it’s what allows you to get to know your supporters, including their needs and interests. Frequently reach out to individuals, whether you’re doing so via email or phone call. You might even suggest meeting up for coffee or lunch — whatever you can do to spend time with your supporters and learn more about them.
Give a Little Something in Return
The individuals you’re talking to are already engaging with your cause in some way. They might be routine volunteers, event attendees, or visitors to your facility. Give them a little something in return for their current level of support – like a logo-branded mug branded or a discount code to your next event. Small surprises like this will keep your organization top of mind.
Keep your supporters in the loop about your organization’s work progress. You can share news on social media – like how many wells you were able to build in developing nations in the last six months. Or, you could introduce your new staff member on your blog. Informing your supporters about what’s going on at your organization will help them see themselves as part of your team.
Additionally, remember to thank your supporters. Yes, even before they donate! Find casual opportunities to thank them for their engagement so far. For example, try sending a sincere volunteer thank-you letter to the individual who has consistently donated four hours of their time every Saturday for the last two months to help with your daycare center. Or, via Instagram direct messages, you can quickly thank your new followers.
Encourage Multiple Forms of Involvement
As we’ve mentioned before, if you’re looking for ways to turn your supporters into donors, those individuals are likely already involved with your organization in some fashion. That means you should encourage them to stay involved.
Not only is any involvement valuable for moving your mission forward, but if you expect your supporters to convert to donating, you’ll want them to have multiple connections to your work that incline them towards continued engagement and donations.
So, continue to promote opportunities like:
Volunteering opportunities give your supporters a chance to get up close and personal with your cause. Diversify your opportunities and keep your volunteer page on your website updated.
Following Your Nonprofit on Social Media
This is an easy one! Encourage your supporters to start or continue following your nonprofit on social media in order to get regular updates. Additionally, make their online loyalty worth it by sharing great content.
Events are a fun way for all of your supporters to come together, interact with each other, and engage in activities that help your beneficiaries. Try hosting events that aren’t geared toward fundraising to put an even bigger emphasis on engagement and involvement.
Getting Involved in Advocacy
If your cause involves advocacy tasks like writing emails or making calls to representatives, provide easy-to-use instructions and templates your supporters can use to take part in these activities.
Giving In-Kind Donations
In-kind donations are easy for supporters to give and great for your nonprofit – removing a step of your organization having to spend donation dollars to get items it needs. Host donation drives to get supplies for your programming or to get ready for your next auction. Giving an in-kind donation can be a great stepping stone for your supporters before making a monetary donation.
The more involved your supporters are, the deeper their love for your cause will be. Offer plenty of opportunities for involvement, and, when possible, personalize your invitations for involvement by catering them to your supporters’ interests.
Creating Personalized Donation Appeals for Donor Prospects
As you prepare to make the first donation ask of a supporter, you should personalize your appeal as much as possible. Doing so will help your ask resonate with the individual and illustrate to them not just why you need their donation, but why you need them.
Here are some best practices for designing personalized donation appeals:
- Highlight the impact the donor prospect has had on your work so far. The last thing you want is for your supporters to feel like they haven’t made a difference to your nonprofit because they haven’t donated yet. Be sure to reference the work they have done so far and explain how that action has created positive change for your beneficiaries.
- Use the data you have to personalize the message. Even elements that feel like low-hanging fruit, such as using a supporter’s first name in a salutation line or referencing their volunteering history, can go a long way in helping the supporter feel seen and valued by your organization.
- Tell stories that matter to the donor prospect. Humans are fascinated by stories, and we love to root for main characters to reach their goals. Leverage storytelling to illustrate why a donation is important at this moment. For example, an animal shelter might tell a story like this: “Spike is a puppy who’s been at our shelter for eight months. With your donation of $50, you can provide food and medical care for Spike while he waits to find his forever home.”
- Ask for a specific donation amount. The amount you suggest should be informed by the work you did in the research process to understand your supporters’ giving capacities and past nonprofit and political giving. But especially for this first donation ask, make sure that it’s an amount that is easy to agree to.
You should also adhere to your supporters’ communication method preferences when preparing to issue a donation appeal. For example, some individuals may prefer to receive a donation letter in the mail. Others may want a call on the phone. Whatever their preferences, make sure to reach them where they are.
Make a Donation Ask at the Right Time
As we said at the beginning of this post, timing is everything. So, once you’ve researched your supporters, built relationships with them, and engaged them in multiple ways, when should you issue your ask?
Of course, the answer will vary depending on your organization’s needs and the relationship you currently have with your supporters. But here are some general time frames during which it may be appropriate to reach out and ask for a donation:
During the Right Season of the Year
Generally, nonprofit giving lags in the summer and picks up at the end of the year during the holiday season, but it may look different for your nonprofit depending on your cause or campaign schedule. Try planning your appeals around these peak times of the year!
When the Supporter’s Interests and Values Align with Your Current Needs
Are you wanting to launch a program that you know one of your supporters would be thrilled about being involved in? Do you want to run a campaign that targets a facet of your mission that one individual loves the most? Take these opportunities to issue a donation appeal that will be truly meaningful.
On Special Occasions
Say a supporter has been volunteering with your organization for one full year. Or say it’s the fifth anniversary of when your museum opened to the public. Celebrate these special moments with a donation appeal. Lean into the memories you’ve made together as you ask for that first gift.
During Emergency Situations
If urgent needs arise, you should feel comfortable turning to supporters who haven’t yet donated to help you meet those needs. However, keep in mind that issuing a first ask during an emergency situation does require you to have donation appeals prepped at all times since emergencies are naturally unpredictable.
During a Capital Campaign
DonorSearch’s capital campaign guide emphasizes the unique nature of these large-scale projects. Whether your organization is building a new facility or purchasing critical equipment, it’s an exciting time and can be a great way to encourage supporters to take the next step in engaging with your cause.
When the time comes to finally make that first donation ask, make sure your supporters feel like they have flexibility in how they contribute their first gift. For example, you might introduce them to your monthly giving program, set up a pledge system, or even inform them about special opportunities to boost their contributions, like taking advantage of their employer’s matching gift programs.
Knowing when, and, more importantly, how to invite a supporter to become a donor is challenging. It will require you to have a strong understanding of the unique individuals that make up your community and for you to make the right moves.
Use the tips in this article to put your team on the right track, and before you know it, you’ll be well on your way to consistently gathering supporters’ first donations. Happy fundraising!
Executive Vice President of DonorSearch
Sarah Tedesco is the Executive Vice President of DonorSearch, a prospect research and wealth screening company that focuses on proven philanthropy. Sarah is responsible for managing the production and customer support department concerning client contract fulfillment, increasing retention rate, and customer satisfaction. She collaborates with other team members on a variety of issues including sales, marketing, and product development ideas.