It’s a good time to think about building your prospect lists!

It’s all too easy to forget about this all-important task, or to think about it as merely an ‘administrative’ function that never rises to the top of your priority list.

You can’t ask anyone for money if you don’t have a list of likely prospects ready and waiting.  Well, okay, you can ask. But you won’t get very far.

Because for someone to be a realistic prospect for your organization, they must possess the following qualities:

  1. Linkage to you (i.e., they’ve been involved in the past, they or someone they know has benefited from your services, they know someone connected with your organization, etc.)
  2. Interest in your mission (i.e., they’ve been involved with similar causes)
  3. Ability to give

Here are some ways to add folks like these to your offline and online prospect lists:

1. ‘Let Your Friends Be Our Friends Campaign

Ask your board members, other volunteers and all those most close to you to give you the names and contact information they have for 3 – 5 of their family, friends or colleagues who may be interested in what you do. While you’re at it, ask if when you’re ready to mail to these folks if they’d be willing to add their name or write a brief personal note.

2. Build Your Email List

One of the most important things you can do is build your online mailing list. Make sure your website is compelling so that folks are enticed to want to become more engaged with you.   The truth is 70% of website visitors will leave after looking at just one page; most won’t return. You need to proactively engage them! A great way to do this is to share one or more stories on your Home Page. Or at least to have a menu drop-down with “Stories of Hope,” or some such header.

Also be sure you have a prominent place on your Home Page where folks can enter in their contact information if they want to hear from you.  Don’t fall back on the simple, yet boring, “Join our Email List.”  People get more than enough email.  You’ve got to give them a gift in return.The best way to do this is by offering donor-centered reasons why folks might want to join your list (e.g., “how to” lists, recommendations, e-books, whitepapers, “story of the month,” etc.). There are free re-engagement tools you can use:

  • Hubspot provides a free pop-up plug-in to redirect visitors or collect contact information.
  • Hello Bar helps you sign visitors up for a newsletter or direct them to your social profiles.
  • Sumo provides free pop-ups and a tool to “stick” your call to action (CTA) so it remains visible as users scroll the page.

3. Leverage Your House List

These are the folks affiliated with you in other ways than as donors.  They may be names housed in multiple mailing lists and/or databases. These folks are connected to you, and it would be a shame to waste these connections.  Look at clients, families of clients, neighbors, patients, students, event attendees, volunteers, staff and so forth. Each of these can become a separate segment for your mailings, with copy tailored to acknowledge how they are connected.

3. Run a Peer-to-Peer Campaign

A single donor can become the equivalent of a major donor, and a new donor recruiter, simply by asking folks to join them in a mini-campaign. They thus attract new donors to your cause from their personal networks, while simultaneously multiplying their value to you as their $100 gift becomes $1,000 due to the matching gifts from nine of their friends.

There are two great ways to handle this online:

  1. Purchase software to handle P2P campaigns right off your own website home page or main menu. This way, folks can run their own campaigns whenever they want.  This is popular for birthdays and other celebrations, but can also be used for memorials in lieu of flowers and other gifts.You offer this as an ongoing fundraising opportunity right off of your website home page or main menu. As noted above, some organizations encourage supporters to set up their own “do-it-yourself” fundraising pages whenever the spirit moves them (e.g., birthdays, weddings, memorials).
  2. Launch mini-campaigns, each with a goal and a defined time frame, to generate funding for specific projects.  You can ask your supporters to share your campaign via email or social media, and provide them with  templates for so doing.

4. Ask Board Members to Review Lists 

When you have unvetted lists, you’re shooting in the dark.  When you get some feedback on those lists, you’ve got much more than a snowball’s chance.

  1. Put together a list of potential foundation supporters. Indicate the leadership, including trustees. Who do they know that works there? How might they be able to help you reach out to these folks?  Do any of these suggestions inspire them to provide additional suggestions (e.g., another prospective funder in the same industry)?
  2. Put together a list of prospective business sponsors.  You might begin with a “Top 50” listing in your community that may be published by a local paper or your chamber of commerce. You might also consider a productive brainstorming session at a board or committee meeting to help identify new prospective sponsors.  I like to do this with event committees, and have been known to tape poster-sized sheets of paper around the room with categories of potential business supporters (e.g., Banks; Law Firms: Finance Firms; Real Estate; Architecture; Retail; Technology Companies, etc.).
  3. Put together a list of prospective individual donors.  I used to ask volunteers to bring in programs from events they attended so I could note who in our community was philanthropic.  I’d also take notes from donor walls when visiting hospitals, universities, museums, zoos and theaters. Pay particular attention to donors to causes related to yours.

5. Use Share Buttons Everywhere

Make current supporters your list-building partners. The best way to attract new supporters is to have your existing supporters tell their friends and family about their involvement. Make it easy by including share buttons on your email appeals, blog posts, website, and thank you landing pages.

Remember: Ultimately, your fundraising is only as good as your list. Spend some time on this!