Why should you be Finding new Donors now?

Why should you be finding new donors now? How can you do it? Why are tests important? This is Part two of our interview with Heather Yandow on the 2016 Individual Donor Benchmark Report. Go here to read part one.

MT: You’re now encouraging nonprofits to spend a lot of time finding new donors. How have you seen nonprofits get new donors most effectively in the short term and the long term?

HY: That’s a great question. So I really believe that they should build on success, so their own success and the success of other organizations like them. So the first thing I would say is to go and look.

Do a little analysis of your own data.

How are you currently finding new donors?

What are the best strategies for you?

  • Is it a house party model?
  • Is it a go and sit at a table at different community events?
  • Is it peer to peer?
  • Is it online?

Whatever’s working for you, really figure out what’s working and why it’s working and see if you can build on that success. So that’s one way to look at success.

The other is to look at other organizations like you in your community or even abroad, in the broader U.S., and see what’s working best for them.

So you may be able to mimic those, and I would encourage you to think about what are the experiments they can run to see what might work for them. So if you see that another organization a couple of counties over has had really fantastic success with a peer-to-peer fundraising campaign, what could you do to try that out the next year? You may not want to make a long term decision, that this is the new strategy that you’re going to be doing.

HY: The other way to think about success is to look at what other organizations like you are doing. Either those in your community or those broader, and so think about maybe if they’re having success with peer-to-peer, how you could try and experiment with that. So not committing to it forever and always,

“What is a small test you could run in the next 6 months to see if your potential donors would respond well to a peer-to-peer campaign? -@ThirdSpaceStudio” (Copy and Tweet this!)

MT: Some nonprofits don’t do testing. They’re just like, well, gosh, I hope this annual appeal works. So how would they even start testing if something works?

HY: There’s a couple of points I want to make about testing.

One is to get really clear about what you’re testing and what success looks like for you. So if you want to test an annual appeal or test a peer-to-peer, measure:

  • How many donors?
  • How many new donors?
  • How much revenue?
  • Does the average gift increase?

What would be all the ways you would want to measure success? So that’s kind of setting up the experiment at the front end. Then when you’ve finished, the other part of that is going back and really taking a hard look at your results and seeing if you can judge your experiment as a success.

So really thinking about what’s a low risk experiment. So you might not want to throw a huge gala fundraiser that has a $25,000 cost to your organization. You want to start smaller and think about what’s kind of the smallest way we could test this? So with a peer-to-peer campaign, maybe the way that you would want to test that is to go and find five core volunteers. Maybe it’s a couple of board members. Maybe it’s a donor. Maybe it’s a couple of people who really do a lot of work with the organization.

Develop a small campaign that’s really just for them, and maybe it has a low dollar amount for how much you want to raise. Run that. See if it works. See if your board members enjoy it. See if you raise a lot of money. See if you find some new donors.

Then the next year, you might be able to double it. After just a few years, you could really have 40 people running this campaign and be generating a lot of revenue.

MT: So what you’re saying is that when they have new donors, even if there are just ten or 20 new donors and you don’t have any database, you could still put them in a spreadsheet and look at has the average gift increased? Has the number of new donors increased? At least you can track that.

HY: Absolutely. A lot of the really core critical specifics to keep on individual donor programs, you can keep in an Excel spreadsheet. It’s mostly just paying attention to them. So I’ve seen organizations that have just a little spreadsheet. They put in the names and email addresses of new donors. Doesn’t take a whole lot of time. Doesn’t take fancy equipment. It just takes the attention to the fact that that is an important metric for their organization.

MT: Once they’ve got the donors, how can nonprofits keep them?

HY: Keeping donors is about a couple of things.

One, it is doing all of those kind of basics of good care and feeding of donors. So do they get a timely thank you note? Do they get an update about what their work allows them to do, or what their support allows you to do? Do they get a tax letter if they’re one of those? So those kind of baseline things. You would be really surprised at how many organizations struggle just to kind of do that basic upkeep.

The next piece of this is really thinking about how you develop a relationship with the donor as a whole person. So we often think about this really clearly when we think about major donor. Those are the folks that maybe we sit down with. We send a holiday greeting card. We really do treat them in a special way and try to develop that relationship. But you can do that with all of your donors, and maybe at a lower resource level. You’re probably not going to have coffee with all of your donors. But I know an organization that sent valentines to all of their donors, saying thank you for being supporters. We love that you allow us to do this work. So it can be little things, really thinking about how you’re building that relationship over the course of the year.

The rule that I’ve heard repeated multiple times is that you have to thank a donor seven times before you ask them for a gift again. So that thank you is everything from the official thank you note that has their tax ID number on it to the phone call from a board member saying thanks, to six months later, an article in the newspaper that you photocopy and write a little note on and slip in the mail to them. But it’s that process of building that relationship and thanking them and including them in your work.

MT:  Heather, how can people get a copy of your report? How can they learn more about your findings and how to get in touch with you?

HY: So you can go to our website, On the front page, there is a big link to download the report. It’s free. We have a great report with lots of interesting graphs. We also have a one page infographic, which is fantastic to share with your board and staff. All of my contact information is there. You can also find us @thirdspacestudio on Twitter. So I would love to hear from anybody here if you have any more questions or comments about the report.

MT: Okay, last question. Heather, when people are looking for a consultant in this space, what is your specialty? Why should people come to you?

HY: Oh, that is a good question. So my specialty is working with small and mighty organizations, those with budgets under $2 million. For those organizations, I really help them be more focused and strategic. So that is a wide variety of things. I definitely help folks do fundraising planning. I also help with strategic planning and board development.

Heather Yandow brings 15 years of experience as an outreach coordinator, coalition leader, project manager, and fundraiser to Third Space Studio and our clients. She helps organizations with strategic planning, business model design, implementing fundraising strategies, and going from good to great. Heather’s most recent nonprofit position was as the Director of Development and Communications with the NC Conservation Network. She has also served on the Board of Directors of Democracy NC, ncyt: NC’s Network of Young Nonprofit Professionals, and the Beehive Collective. Heather holds a certificate in Nonprofit Management from Duke University and is a trained facilitator.

If you’d just like to focus on finding new donors, check out the Finding New Donors Course!

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