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How to Get Donors to Vote for You

Every nonprofit has its own approach to sustainable solvency. In some cases, there is a wide base of support with many sources providing for the annual fund. Strength here is in breadth and number of supporters, such that if a few are unable to support in a given year, others are still there. Another approach is fewer but larger supporters, who often provide multi-year commitments. This core of major givers understands that the successful implementation of the nonprofit’s work requires investments and continuity. Still other nonprofits use a blend of these approaches to obtain their support.

The common factor is the concept that sustainability is defined as a revenue stream. But that’s not where true sustainability is derived from.

The number of supporters and their level of support are only byproducts of the organization’s efforts to ensure sustainability. The real kernel of strength comes from the organization’s value, as demonstrated to the community and its stakeholders. Donors see themselves as investors, and will only invest in an organization which can demonstrate value to its investors. In reality, donors are "voting" on organizations according to the support they’re willing to provide. As nonprofit leaders, it’s incumbent on us to make sure that we’re getting those “votes” by earning their trust, and constantly demonstrating value, in the form of the impact we demonstrate.


An organization’s reputation and level of trust are the most critical factors to ensuring sustainability.

If “votes” (donations) are going down, it’s often difficult to recoup that trust. The best approach is to preemptively ensure we’re earning that trust and ensuring continued support. Having done that for many nonprofits, I can share some thoughts on how to stay on top of it. Here is a checklist items to consider:

  • Do your supporters know your mission and vision? Are you regularly reinforcing this?

  • Is your strategic plan current and pertinent? Is it being reviewed regularly and used in determining the tactics you’ve implemented? Does your plan support your mission and vision, incorporating aspects of communicating your value to the community and your stakeholders?

  • What does your online presence look like? What’s your Charity Navigator rating? You can control the transparency rating by ensuring you have the policies now requested in your 990. Also, have you added your organization’s information on Guidestar to ensure easy accessibility by donors and prospects? Be sure to maximize your organization’s reputation on these two of the more trusted sources of external information on nonprofits.

  • Have you looked at your website’s information from the perspective of a donor or prospect, not just that of the organization?

  • When was the last time you asked your donors their thoughts and opinions? Are you making sure that you reach out to them frequently between asking for their support?

  • Do you periodically meet personally with major donors to see if they are still finding value in your organization?

Are your board members involved in engaging donors and prospects? There is tremendous value in non-paid volunteers reaching out, as it’s understood they are committed to the organization due to their involvement. While this is not an exhaustive list of things to consider, accomplishing all of this will certainly help to understand your donor’s perceptions. An organization’s reputation, and the level of trust donors have in it, are the most critical factors to ensuring sustainability.

Bill Hoffman's firm provides services in:  Strategic Plan Development & Implementation; Board Development & Training; Program Design & Management; Systems Development & Implementation; Executive Coaching & Leader Development; Interim Leadership; and Organizational Performance Audits.

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