Prospect Engagement: Without a Unicorn or Famous Friends

Posted by Paul F. Morris on 9.3.2022


“We need donors” is a lot like saying, “Hope IS a fundraising strategy”

No, it isn’t.

Wishing that people will find your nonprofit and will be so amazed that they will invest isn’t going to cut it.  

What else won’t cut it? Just asking *insert name of super famous philanthropist here* or “I don’t know anyone…” Nope.

How many times have you heard that and been filled with a gnawing, existential dread, because you know that isn’t going to get you where you want, and need to go?  

If you have ever felt a sense of overwhelm at where to find prospective supporters or how to connect with them, you are not alone. Identifying and engaging potential donors is one of the hardest things to do in the development process, even harder than asking.

Preparing for the 'Ask'

Unless you have a massive ad budget or monstrous buzz, it is hard to get people to pay attention. But once you do, the ‘ask’ becomes easy. Once people are paying attention -- if you are willing to engage with them, to invite them to join you on the journey, then when it is time to ask, they are ready to say yes.

They are expecting it. They may even be surprised it took you so long because they feel part of the organization.  

Now, a lot can make that process harder. You have to:

  • Pay attention
  • Offer relevant, timely content
  • Be willing to listen
  • Be consistent
  • Have help  

Let’s break it down

  1. You have to know what you need.  Have a real handle on what you need to fuel your program. Then determine how many donors you feel you need to achieve that. A rough number is okay, but put a number on it It makes it more tangible for people, and it can build excitement.
  2. Identify the supporters who are going to be into what you are doing. Start with your current supporter pool and look at who in that list isn't actively engaged. Start there - because they are familiar with who you are
  3. Ask your board. They should identify 3-5 people they are going to introduce to the organization to and are going to connect with regularly.
  4. Now it's time to reach out. Be creative. But use every channel you have available to you: email, call, notes, social. Start reaching out to people individually to learn what drew them to your organization. Ask what excites them about the work you are doing. Don’t ask them for money (unless it feels right). Listen. Ask follow-up questions. Discover how they want to stay connected.  

Driving Engagement

Having a simple menu of activities that drive engagement can help. As well as having even a simple plan, i.e. each month we are going to do x, y, z to engage with people. A little planning goes a long way. Something else that can help, especially if you are a small organization, is automating as much as possible.  

As you develop momentum in engaging with and deepening relationships that you have, you can expand your reach. Start reaching out beyond your database:

  • Look for ways to engage new or different audiences
  • Connect with community groups
  • Try targeted social ads or increase the frequency of your communications

There are as many ways to draw attention as there are organizations.

What I would offer though is: be realistic and be thoughtful about who you are seeking to engage with – you want people who are genuinely interested in who you are and what you do. If they just happened upon your latest TikTok but really aren’t interested, they won’t ever be interested in really getting to know you. And that makes for an impossible ask.

You don’t need a unicorn, famous friends, or any other sort of magic. Having a thoughtful, methodical approach is going to attract people, and, more importantly, keep them around so you can invite them to invest in your cause.  


Paul F Morris, has spent nearly 30 years raising money for a variety of causes. His work spans the spectrum from Foundation and Corporate support to working with individuals at all giving levels.