So you just received tax exemption for the nonprofit you represent and you are wondering how you get fundraising going. You go online and you see lots of resources available to you and they all look great. The problem is that most of them talk about how to “better engage your donors” or how to “take advantage X softwares capabilities to steward donors.” Basically, most of them assume that you already have an established list of donors to work with.

Well, if your donor list is composed entirely of family, you have never received a donation, or you don’t know where to even begin, then this article is for you!

This is a two part, step-by-step guide outlining the basics of starting at square one of fundraising to building your donor base! As with all things nonprofit, these general ideas should be discussed in your board meetings and with staff to ensure that everyone’s input is heard and a consensus is reached. There is nothing worse than spending a bunch of time working on something only to find that it does not meet the needs or is not representative of the organization.



One key idea throughout this whole article will be that of Donor Segmentation.

Donor Segmentation allows you as a nonprofit fundraiser to be able to make small tweaks to an overall appeal in order to make your message a bit more unique to prospective donors. An example of this is capturing how your donor wants to be greeted. Do they prefer Mr. Doe, Mr. John Doe, Dear John, Dear J, Dear Dr. John?

While this may seem insignificant, having this information allows you to tailor the content to look like it was sent specifically to them. Think about how much more powerful it is to know that John Doe has three kids, two of whom are in school with a board members child, he likes being called Dr. J by friends, and is looking for opportunities to volunteer working with kids? By working some of that information into an appeal and tailoring your messaging to focus on what he is interested in, you create a stronger connection, which can mean the difference between a $25 donation and a $2,500 donation.

Now that we have that out of the way, onward to getting it done!


Get your software in place

Start by determining how you will track contact information. This could be an excel sheet (especially in the very beginning) but I recommend MailChimp or Constant Contact. Both are excellent for collecting and managing contact information while also offering the ability to build and send emails directly from the software to your whole list or segmented parts of your list based on the info you capture (only sending to those with kids, for example). MailChimp is a bit kinder on the checkbook as you can access most of their services free of charge for the first 2,000 contacts as long as you send less than 12,000 emails per month (which is pretty easy to do when you are starting). Constant Contact has more customization options but only offers a 60 day trial and then you have to pay.

It is up to you on how you want to proceed but my personal suggestion is you start with MailChimp and then, as your organization grows, you can either purchase a paid version of MailChimp or export all of your contacts and then purchase a subscription to Constant Contact and import them all again.

If you need further help with setting this up, I am putting the finishing touches on a course in the NPO.lib course library that walks you through the cheapest and best software that I recommend for when you start your organization that has the ability to grow with your organization. If you would like to get on a waiting list and be alerted when it becomes available, you can sign up here!


Who Are They?

Next, determine what your ideal donors look like. Who are they? Why are they interested in your organization and what you do? The best way to do this is to create 2-4 Ideal Donor Avatars that clearly define who you want to donate to your organization. As enticing as it is to say either “everyone” or “multi-millionaires”, that type of definition is not what we are looking for. This is where we start really focusing on the segmentation aspects that I talked about above. The more specific we can get, the more we can focus our energy and the less we have to guess in the next step. Create a an avatar profile for each archetype of person that interacts with your organization.

An avatar profile might look like this:

  1. Avatar Story: What is their life like? What is their interest in your cause? Do they have lots of free time? Are they strong advocates in their communities? Do they have an insatiable passion for basket weaving?
  2. Avatar Details: This includes demographic info like:
    • Age Gender
    • Income
    • Education
    • Employment Status/Occupation
    • Marital Status/Family
    • Info specific to your cause (pet owner, plays musical instrument, has children, concerned about the environment, etc)
  3. Avatar Goals: What do they want to get out of their relationship with your organization? What do you want this avatar to ultimately do? Donate? Volunteer? Become an advocate? As an added bonus, during evaluation time, you can easily look at this section and see if you met the goals. Of the 50 people that match this avatar profile, how many donated? Then you can look at why you met that goal or didn’t.
  4. Avatar Motivations: What motivates them to give and/or be involved with your organization? This is what will make the avatar reach the goal. Do they want recognition from their peers? Do they want to write off the donation for tax purposes? Do they want proof to know that their donation will be used appropriately?
  5. Best Content: What content is best to share with this avatar? Do they want to know about events to take their kids to? Do they want to know about events that will take place early in the morning on week days? Do they prefer snail mail or email?
  6. Avatar Name: This should reflect the rest of the avatar profile. It should make it easy to know which profile you are talking about when you say the name. An example of this could be “Dr. Do-Good” for a persona with a high level of education, high income, who is interested in doing lots of good in the community. Another example would be “The Loving Old Cat Lady” for a profile describing an elderly woman who loves cats. You can also add a picture of what the persona looks like, both for fun and to make the persona more real!

These profiles will not be public facing and are used more as a tool to keep your constituent list organized. It is way easier to say “I am writing a ‘#KevinsInAPunkBand appeal today” in a meeting instead of “I am writing an appeal targeted toward male millennial contacts with a high social media presence, musician…” Plus it tends to make the whole activity more fun and interesting, which goes a long way toward combating burn out (an article for another day).

Find out what comes next in part two of this two part series by clicking here!


Build Your Donor List, No Matter Where You Are In The Process

Brandon Reed

Founder at Reed Community Consulting and NPO.lib

Brandon helps people help other people. He has over 10 years experience working with small and medium-sized nonprofits in two countries in many different sectors. He has worked at all levels of organization from entry-level service delivery up to the executive director and board president. This experience affords him insight for whole level management of an organization, which he transfers to his clients. In his free time, he likes to play volleyball and spend time gardening with his wife and dog.

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