Can New Nonprofits Attract Large Donors?

  • by Shala Graham
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Chances are, if your nonprofit isn't well-known and established, you probably heard the advice to start small and plan on scratching your way forward for a number of years. After all, the biggest donors don't want to deal with unknown, untested nonprofits, particularly if they support causes that aren't in the public eye... or do they?

Can new nonprofits actually attract large donors?

There is a feeling that large donors—such as wealthy individuals and large foundations—want to deal with nonprofits they know, and there certainly is some truth to that. But there is also another side to the same coin: Smaller and newer nonprofits don't have established politics, and it's easier for bigger donors to make an immediate impact. That means that, although you may not be able to raise millions from them on your first try, it's actually easier in some ways for smaller organizations to become someone's "pet project" and not only attract donations, but also get them to refer you to other big donors.

Here are a handful of steps new nonprofits can follow to attract money and attention from larger donors:

Make your mission very clear.

In a certain sense, your biggest obstacle isn't being new, but being unknown. Before they make a commitment of time or money, donors—and especially the biggest ones who are used to giving major gifts—want to know exactly what your organization is about. That begins with the causes and groups you support, of course, but also includes any core messages and political affiliations that you might have.

The newer your nonprofit organization is, the more important it is that your website, press releases, brochures, and other marketing materials clearly and accurately reflect your group's mission and purpose. You want to leave no doubt that someone coming upon them for the first time could easily see who you are, why you exist, and why it's important for them to support you. That's good advice for any nonprofit, of course, but especially those who are still trying to build their image and brand.

Embrace being new.

Although you might feel tempted to make your nonprofit seem bigger, older, or more established than it is to ease donors’ fears, fight that impulse. For one thing, there is always the risk that you'll overplay your hand, and no one likes to donate money to an organization that can't be honest and upfront about its own structure and history. More importantly, though, people love things that are new. Cliché as it might be, being the "hot" cause or nonprofit for the moment is a great way to get attention from donors of all sizes, not to mention the media.

So, rather than downplaying the fact that you are new and still spreading your roots, highlight that fact in your marketing messages and communications. At worst, potential donors will become curious and want to know more about your organization. That might not be the biggest opening, but it's a starting point to work with.

Have a strong vision for the future of your organization.

One question that is likely to sit in the mind of a major donor considering your new nonprofit is what you're going to do with their gifts. This is especially important for organizations without an established track record, as there might be a fear that you can't handle a large cash infusion, or that too much of the money will be used inefficiently.

The best way to ease these concerns, as with most others, is with an adequate supply of information. Have a broad plan for the future of your nonprofit, including the programs and funding levels you would like to achieve. In fact, you might even include these in a fundraising appeal or annual report. So long as these are the right combination of ambitious and realistic, they'll give you a tool for showing major donors what you can do with a sizable gift.

In some ways, established nonprofits are always going to have an advantage when it comes to securing gifts from major donors, whether they are individual or institutional. That's because they have long-standing relationships and habits that last years, and sometimes decades. Don't think that smaller or newer nonprofits can't compete for big dollars, however—all you have to do is follow these tips and make a plan for your organization's future success.

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