How to Get (and Keep) Major Donors

Over the past few months, I’ve been working to generate interest among potential major donors in our community for a new Nonprofit Hub initiative. We’re planning to relocate our Nonprofit Hub staff to a new location where we’ll also create a co-working spot for nonprofits that need a physical workspace. This will be a win/win—we’ll be furthering our mission to give back to our community while providing organizations with a workspace to help them promote their causes.

I’ve been doing a “soft launch” of this co-working space concept with some major donors in our city, and here (in a nutshell) is how a typical conversation might go.

Me: “Let me tell you about a new concept we’re exploring at Nonprofit Hub. We want to create a co-working space for nonprofits.”

Potential donor: “Awesome! Sounds like a great idea. What do you want from me?”

Me: “I’m not sure yet. But I wanted you to be one of the first to know about it and get your thoughts. Can I pick your brain?”

It might sound like I don’t know what I’m doing, but I have a strategy, I promise. Right now, my goal is to cultivate relationships with potential donors. I’m not interested in making the ask at this point; I simply want people to buy into the co-working concept and determine who might be interested in supporting this project.

Of course I’m going to go back and ask for a three-year financial commitment of some sort, especially from those who seem really sold on this concept. But right now, it’s all about engagement and relationships. I don’t just want these people’s money; I want their loyalty. A lot to ask? Maybe. But it’s a big initiative, and I need them onboard for the long haul.

Walking through this process has clarified how important it is to approach major donors the right way—not as ATM machines or with dollar signs in our eyes, but as partners in our mission. In the end, acquiring and keeping major donors is about relationships and treating people the way they deserve to be treated. Here are five key thoughts in the forefront of my mind as I engage with these potential supporters.

1. My passion and excitement about this project are contagious.

But only with those donors who share my vision. Regardless of how deep their pockets are, if someone doesn’t understand or appreciate what we’re trying to accomplish, they won’t be a good fit. You need to be willing to walk away when you realize that you and a potential donor don’t see eye to eye.

2. But don’t give up on the donor.

When I say, “walk away,” I’m not talking about quitting; I’m saying find a better fit for that potential donor with other projects in your organization. Maybe some of these people I’m engaging with won’t buy into the co-working concept. That’s okay. They may get excited about other initiatives we have coming down the pipe.

3. Let people help you create solutions.

All too often we approach major donors very one-dimensionally: We just go after their money. Immediately. My goal with Nonprofit Hub’s current initiative goes beyond securing donors. I want to build a team of supporters who will be invested more than just financially; I want them to engage mentally and emotionally as well. They may offer insight and wisdom that will prove to be as valuable as their donations.

4. Be protective of your mission.

Major donors are typically influential people in the community, which is advantageous in most respects. Just be cautious of one thing: Don’t allow them (or their money) to influence you in a way that steers you away from your mission. Keep it front and center. In the end, you want donors who align with your organization’s mission, not those who try to get you to align with theirs.

5. Follow up.

After you’ve secured a financial commitment, your relationship with that donor is just beginning. Make sure you fulfill any promises you made in the ask. Let them clearly know what their money will be used for. Stay in touch with regular communication and explain the impact they’re making. Getting that initial gift is just part of the goal. Ultimately you want your major donors to become loyal partners with your organization, and that will take ongoing engagement.

I’m excited about where Nonprofit Hub is headed and how our new initiative will be able to serve the nonprofits in our community. More than that, though, I’m eager to build a team of major donors and supporters who will walk with us on this journey. I’d be lying if I said I don’t want their money. But ultimately, I want their loyalty and commitment. And securing those things is not a matter of making the ask; it’s an ongoing process that comes without an end date.


Randy Hawthorne

As the former Executive Director and Editor for Nonprofit Hub and a Professional Certified Marketer, Randy shares his passions of marketing and education with nonprofits to help them implement marketing and organizational leadership principles so they can grow their organizations. Randy lends his marketing and organizational leadership expertise to a number of nonprofits in his community. Outside the office, Randy works with high school and college students and mentors young professionals to develop their leadership and entrepreneurial skills.

October 23, 2014

You May Also Enjoy

Become a Member

Whether you’re with a large team or a solo entrepreneur looking to start the next great cause, we have a membership package that will help you grow your network and your cause.