Fiesha Lynn Bell, Sarah Malchow and Robyn McGill weighed in on this topic at the inaugural Meaningful Edges event.
Identifying and prioritizing potential donors, partnerships, and volunteers for nonprofit organizations requires a targeted approach, patience and an understanding of the organization’s unique value proposition. By being open to partnerships outside their customary fundraising lanes, nonprofits can engage donors in new and innovative ways, allowing them to support their mission better.
Donors Must See Themselves in the Foundation
Fiesha emphasized the Greater Milwaukee Foundation's strong reputation and the power of referrals. Given the foundation’s status as a network of trusted advisors, conveners, and charitable partners in the community, they collaborate with professionals like attorneys, estate planners and financial advisors who refer their clients to the foundation.
But this trust and referral system only works if donors see their identities and values reflected in the foundation.
“Racial equity and inclusion are the North Star of the Greater Milwaukee Foundation…we’re seeing people come to us because they see themselves in our work and want to partner with us to achieve their wishes," she said.
Cast a Wide Net, then Focus Your Message
Robyn discussed the Alzheimer’s Association’s approach to target audiences and partnerships. She emphasized articulating the intended audience and avoiding the common but unrealistic desire to reach everyone.
“When crafting a media piece, you need to target and tell me expressly whom we are trying to reach because that dictates the approach and possibly the story we will be sharing,” she said.
But targeting audiences doesn’t prohibit organizations from casting wide nets. Robyn said that because Alzheimer's disease currently lacks treatments, prevention and medicines – except for a few drugs recently emerging or in the pipeline – the association must reach as many people as possible to raise awareness and secure funding for its mission.
“We have many people who need help. And they aren’t necessarily going to be able to contribute. So, we need other approaches to reach folks who need care and support,” she said.
One of these approaches includes developing partnerships with big corporations.
“Many folks in the decision-making seats don’t understand the effect that Alzheimer’s disease has on their workforce. People taking care of someone with Alzheimer’s disease are exhausted and financially tapped out – they may be showing up for work late or leaving work early for doctor’s appointments and visits. So having support in the workplace and understanding that disease is super important,” she said.
Once they’ve reached the door and developed that relationship, Robyn said the corporation usually comes on board and raises money.
In addition to being a selling point for residents and employees, Cedar Community’s beautiful wooded setting has become a tertiary avenue to engage donors.
Go from the Inside Out
Sarah shared her perspective on fundraising, emphasizing the importance of conducting thorough research to identify potential donors. She stressed the value of leveraging existing connections and seeking introductions through their board of directors or personal networks.
“Let's start talking to some folks we know, perhaps by approaching your board of directors for the gift of introduction. Let's ask for the gift of a meeting or the gift of time,” she said.
Sarah also encouraged organizations to explore unexpected collaborations and partnerships that may extend beyond their core mission. For example, Sarah said environmental stewardship was not initially part of Cedar Community’s core business. Still, its access to Big Cedar Lake and beautiful wooded setting have become tertiary avenues to engage donors.
“I think it's essential for us to ask ourselves, ‘How do we build unlikely collaborations? How do we leverage our connections and make sure our Rolodex is rich?’” she said.
By considering unique value propositions and engaging individuals or corporations that may not typically align with their sector, organizations can expand their donor base and reach and diversify their revenue streams.