How to Create and Grow Your Donor Base from Scratch

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Are you a fundraising professional at a new nonprofit? Then you’re likely working on growing your donor base. How do you attract donors to your nonprofit when you don’t already have a strong base to draw from? If you need tips on where to begin, read on for our advice for creating and growing your donor base from scratch.  


To start off on the right foot, you’ll want to make sure your messaging is in order. Start with clarifying your nonprofit’s mission and getting everyone on the same page about what you do, how you do it, and why. If you’re just starting out, you probably won’t have impact statements to provide. In that case, you must clearly state the problem you’re trying to solve and share how you’ll approach solving it. 

If your nonprofit is similar to other nonprofits in your service area, differentiate your nonprofit. How are you different? Why is your approach to solving the problem better? Knowing the answers to these questions will set you apart from your competitors and make you stand out among them.  

Developing your messaging will come in handy in the future as you train volunteers, staff, and advocates. Having a defined mission statement and clearly communicating your values and work on your website can help endear potential donors to your nonprofit as well. 

Start close to home

With your messaging ready, next it’s time to start forming your donor base. But who do you ask to contribute to your cause? It helps to start close to home. Ask coworkers (if company policy allows you to ask for donations), family, and friends to donate to your nonprofit. 

When it comes to asking coworkers at your nonprofit, prepare a fact sheet explaining the nonprofit’s mission and how their donations will help. When asking them to contribute, be sure to communicate that it’s optional and not expected. No one should feel obligated to give, but they should have the option to donate in support of the cause. 

If your fledgling nonprofit isn’t your full-time job, ask coworkers at your day job to support you as well. 

As for friends and family, these are people who want you and your cause to succeed most. They’ll likely make up the foundation of your donor base early on. When it comes to asking for donations, be sure to explain how their donations will help and be sure to provide them with updates when you have them, just like you would with any other donor. 

How do you get family and friends interested in supporting you? Consider going old school with a parlor meeting fundraiser. Parlor meetings, which date back to biblical times, involve getting a group of about 10-20 people together so you can educate them about what you’re doing. You can get them together for dessert and coffee, during which someone from your organization—a board member or someone who works in the field—tells everyone about their experience with your organization. You can even host a virtual version! 

After the presentation, you can field questions or tell stories of people from the area you serve. At that point, you have an opportunity to say that you need help in supporting the work people have just seen on the screen: here’s the problem, we’re part of the solution, and we need your help! It’s incredibly effective. 

Engage your advocates

Once you have a group of supporters giving to you on a regular basis, turn them into your advocates. Your early supporters are going to be the most passionate about your mission and want to see you succeed. Activate your supporters and ask them to reach out to people in their network on behalf of your nonprofit. 

Provide your advocates with resources like fact sheets, letters of introduction, and more items they need to tell other people about your organization and then ask them to set up meetings and talk about your nonprofit on social media to get the word out about your cause. 

Advertise on social media

It can be difficult to get grant funding without a track record of success, so building a donor base through contacts and social media will be key. You can only reach so many people with word of mouth alone. While your advocates are soliciting people in their network to support your nonprofit, you can reach new people by advertising on social media. 

To be fair, you should be on social media anyway since it’s a leading source of information about your nonprofit organization. Use social media to your advantage and post regularly so people interested in your nonprofit can learn more about you. Pin a post directing social media visitors to your website so they can learn more and hopefully make a donation. 

When your social media profiles are developed, consider paid social media advertising to further your reach. You can promote posts or even create ads directing people to support your cause by giving to you on your website, signing up for your newsletter, or becoming a volunteer. The beauty of social ads is you can use them to get what you need from local people who are also passionate about your cause. 

Conduct prospect research

Need to find more people who are similar to your now-growing donor base? A great way to accomplish this is with prospect research.  

First, assess what you know about your current donors.  

  • Who are they?  
  • Where do they live?  
  • Why do they give?  
  • What’s their giving capacity?  
  • What’s the most common starting gift amount given by your first-time donors?  

Then, take this information and conduct prospect research by finding other people who are similar demographically to your donor base. Reach out to them with a feeler letter introducing your nonprofit, explaining the problem you’re solving, and share how you’re helping.  

The goal should be to attract new first-time donors, not raise serious funds. With that in mind, ask for a low dollar amount to start. Pay attention to responses to this feeler appeal and get them added to your donor database (and don’t forget the thank-you letter!). From there, sign them up for communications to keep them in the loop about your nonprofit and what it’s accomplishing. 

Retain your new donors

The best way to ensure your donor base continues growing is by retaining the donors you attract to your cause. Think of attracting fundraisers like trying to fill a leaky bucket. You need to keep the majority of your fundraisers to grow your donor base. Otherwise you’re only breaking even if you’re attracting one new donor for each one you lose.  

How do you keep donors around? Luckily, there’s a lot you can do to improve donor retention at your nonprofit! 

First, how can you use your fundraising tools to boost your donor retention rate? If your online donation form supports recurring donations, take advantage of those tools! Why? Recurring donors stick around longer and give more than one-time donors. Early on, you’ll need to rely on the recurring support of donors to make up your bottom line. Rather than collecting one-time donations, try to use tools such as recurring giving prompts to inspire would-be donors to support you over the long run with a recurring gift instead of a one-time donation. 

Once you’ve got your donors upgraded to recurring donors, make sure you’re sharing how their gifts are making a bigger difference for your organization. Your thank-you letters should express how donations are helping, what you’ve accomplished, and the goal you’re working toward. This helps donors visualize the good they’re doing and inspires them to keep giving. 

Remember that your donors want to feel like the heroes. So your accomplishments are their accomplishments. So when you’re describing the good being done, describe it as though it’s the donors who made it possible, because that’s true! It shouldn’t be about all the good you’re accomplishing. You’re the vessel for these donors to do good work by giving to your cause. 

Lastly, consider a founding donors organization for your new donors. By creating a club or association , you’re letting them know they belong and that they’re an integral part of your nonprofit. With a founders club, you’re building relationships with your donors and encouraging them to get more involved with your nonprofit. If you engage this club well, participants may launch their own fundraising initiatives, host events, and volunteer at your fundraisers to help you achieve your mission.


With these tips, you can create and grow your donor base from scratch. While the process may take a while, you can be successful by using these tactics and setting up a solid donor retention strategy to keep the donors you attract to your cause. 

Need more information on how to retain your new donors and keep your donor base growing? Check out our guide to donor retention

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