Know Your Donors – and Raise More Money
Book - How to Connect with Donors
Fundraising hinges on developing relationships, and the most successful fundraisers engage donors in many ways, both large and small, according to Thomas Wolf, who provides practical guidance in How to Connect with Donors and Double the Money you Raise.

Board members in most nonprofits are expected to engage in fundraising, but they often have little or no experience in this area since that is not what they do for a living. Written for the non-professional fundraiser, How to Connect with Donors recognizes that, for most people asking, for money does not come naturally.

Turning names into relationships is the key to effective donor cultivation, writes Wolf, simply because it’s flesh-and-blood people, not prospect lists, who give to causes they care about. It’s relationships that enable casual small donors to become intensely loyal and large ones, he says.

Wolf, who has worked with 10 of the 50 largest U.S. foundations and numerous trustees, and nonprofit administrators and volunteers, counsels that effective fundraising is built on listening to current and prospective donors. Often, a potential donor doesn’t want to be solicited directly and, in fact, may react negatively to a direct request. But, Wolf advises, she or he will often respond to requests for advice, which can lead to more substantial giving.

To drive home his point, Wolf cites an old adage: “Ask people for money, they give you advice; ask them for advice, they give you money.”

How to Connect with Donors, though more a pamphlet, at 109 pages, than a book, offers sage advice on a number of issues which many people worry about, from how to respond to demand donors to how to deal with people you find offensive. For example:
  • Saying thanks. Saying it promptly, and in writing, is essential. Being personal and different in each note is important. Doing it by email, once considered incorrect, is Ok today for the right donors.

  • Responding to disappointment. Not every donor you think should or ought to give will do so. In such cases, say thanks and graciously drop the subject. By all means maintain the relationship, because, as Wolf notes, “you never know.”

  • Establishing organizational guidelines. These apply to memorial gifts, naming gifts, and other special giving categories. Having guidelines in place enables the organization to gracefully handle unsolicited donations in a way that preserves its giving goals.
Though it should go without saying, honesty and integrity drive fundraising. It’s not about manipulating prospective donors. It’s about being yourself, because that is who donors respond to.

Writes Wolf: “When we’re authentic, donors can tell. Even if I had the perfect system for pretending, it wouldn’t work for very long. And the opposite is also true. When we conduct ourselves with integrity, it shines through, especially as donors come to know us through the years.”

How to Connect with Donors and Double the Money you Raise is published by the Emerson & Church.

Reviewed by Peter Lowy

July 2011