Inside Philanthropy

A blog on philanthropy and nonprofit news and issues. A publication of Philanthropy Journal.

August 5, 2013

Loyal donors should be your nonprofit’s ambassadors for financial sustainability

Terry Axelrod

This could be the year to get your organization on the path to financial sustainability, if you are willing to do the work to attain it. Here’s what it would look like.

First, your organization has a self-generating group of enthusiastic individual donors who know your work and mission and who consider it consistent with their own values and mission in life. They regard their contributions to your organization as a bold step toward the fulfillment of their own purpose.

These loyal donors understand your work and freely choose to pledge their ongoing financial support by making unrestricted gifts for your operational needs. A subset of these donors also gives for capital projects and endowment. Rather than developing separate categories of donors to give to operations, capital and endowment, this ever-increasing, single pool of loyal donors support all of these needs. These individual donors and supporters also advocate on your behalf at the legislature, invest in the continuing education of your staff or offer summer jobs for your students. They are there to help fund a one-time, special need for a family or community. They care that much!

Your donors engage others naturally by consistently talking about their favorite nonprofit organization with their friends and colleagues. They do this not because they have to sell tickets or raise dollars before the end of the year, but because they are genuinely excited about the organization’s work, and they want to tell others about it.

As time goes on, a ripple effect takes hold. Instead of board members needing to ask their friends for money, people who have gotten to know your organization over time begin to come to you and ask how they can join your board or help you in other ways. What began as a mere fundraising program has become an ongoing operating system for engaging and developing relationships with individuals who will sustain your work and, in turn, engage others to do the same.

Far beyond being your bread and butter, these loyal and passionate supporters are your oxygen, breathing life and vitality into your nonprofit organization, regularly refreshing your board, your volunteers and staff and keeping your organization connected to the current needs of the community.

No longer the best-kept secret in town, your organization is well on the way to fulfilling its mission with a strong cadre of supporters who are delighted to be involved. For them, your work is their work.

Terry Axelrod is the founder and CEO of Benevon, a Seattle-based organization that has trained and coached more than 4,000 nonprofit teams to build sustainable funding from individual donors.

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