Seeking sponsorship and patronage for your nonprofit

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Nonprofit organizations do a great deal to exemplify the spirit of generosity, and as such, it makes sense that they rely in large part on the generosity of others to meet their financial operating needs. The patronage of donors – ranging from government grants totaling in the millions of dollars to monthly gifts of $5 or $10 made by middle- and working-class Americans out of the goodness of their hearts – is essential for keeping these groups afloat. But nonprofits don’t have the luxury of simply relying on the benevolence of donors without also engaging in efforts to maintain dialogue with them and not take the support for granted.

It has to be understood that donors don’t necessarily come around unprompted to drop off gifts – they must be sought out. In many cases, it will be necessary to court donors and convince them of the organization’s worth, and much more importantly, the value of its primary cause or mission. There is some room for nuance here: Most charitable and advocacy organizations share their cause with other groups, whether they are dedicated to funding breast cancer research or supporting the rights of those ensnared by wrongful convictions. Thus, the goal of a nonprofit manager or leading fundraiser is to establish why his or her group will most effectively do the job.

Developing viable and sustainable fundraising strategies – or failing to do so – determines whether nonprofits accomplish their goals or shut down their efforts for lack of operating capital. As such, those who wish to be involved with nonprofits as their life’s work must learn the essential best practices of donor communication and relationship management. The Rutgers University online Master of Public Administration degree program can function as an ideal conduit through which to study these techniques, as well as other foundational aspects of nonprofit administration.

Seek patronage through multiple avenues

Nonprofits can certainly advertise, but it’s unwise for them to go about doing so the way a for-profit company would. Social media (on a limited basis) and the occasional TV or radio spot can all be effective, as can certain content marketing techniques, like shareable infographics and blog posts chronicling the organization’s work. But nonprofit marketers must ensure always to emphasize the gravity of their work and never seem crass or opportunistic. Include calls to action instructing those who wish to learn more to sign up for an email or direct mail newsletter.

Newsletter subscribers, according to Nolo, function as a great place to start looking for donors, though they shouldn’t be the only method an organization employs. It’s also wise to collect guest names at benefit galas and related events, as these sometimes attract attendees who aren’t typical patrons but could be persuaded if contacted in an appropriate manner. Nolo recommended offering incentives like prize raffles or auctions in such settings. Make it clear to donors that they’ll receive occasional calls or emails only if they wish to, as the right to opt out now or later helps establish trust. If they can’t commit now, they might still change their mind at a later date.

Amid all of this, don’t forget to continue outreach efforts toward existing donors. They are the contingency plan that will keep a nonprofit running in the event that new donors are few and far between for any reason.

Understand why donors give

As noted by Nonprofit Hub, donors with considerable largesse – whom every nonprofit must target to at least some degree – initially contribute due to a desire to make a difference. They maintain, reduce, increase, or stop their giving based on their satisfaction, as well as the level of connection they feel with the organization.

Considerable data bears this out: According to the 2012 Study of High Net Worth Philanthropy sponsored by Bank of America, 74 percent of wealthy contributors cited difference-making as a primary motivation, while 69 percent noted that they donated to the same organizations on a regular basis. Additionally, 68 percent of those queried for the study cited organizational efficiency as a factor influencing their desire to give to certain nonprofits as opposed to others.

Ultimately, it’s contingent on all nonprofit staff – from the part-time telephone agents to those at the C-level – to forge and maintain relationships with patrons so that the emphasis remains on their desire to give and they stay satisfied. Beyond the specifics noted above, donor satisfaction plays a massive role in charitable giving, according to Nonprofit Hub.

The art of asking

Once new potential donors have been reached – by email, on the phone, or in person – the way in which you request help from them requires considerable delicacy and finesse. Explain clearly the value that their gift will provide, using quantifiable evidence of progress in the form of research efforts made, houses built, educational resources provided, and so on. If in a more personalized setting, like a fundraising call or face-to-face conversation, anecdotes detailing specific instances where the organization made a tangible, tactile positive impact might affect potential donors even more than any coterie of statistics.

That being said, The Fundraising Coach stressed the importance of listening to potential donors when they engage fundraising staffers, and never letting the ask get in the way of anything that these would-be patrons wish to communicate. Donors and nonprofits don’t share a cut-and-dried capitalistic relationship in the manner of businesses and consumers, and it will do an organization absolutely no favors to treat those who consider offering their financial support as anything less than close colleagues.

Additionally, if nonprofit fundraisers choose to offer incentives as part of their pitch, bringing up the tax-deductible nature of (most) charitable gifts shouldn’t be included among them by default, as some sort of hard-and-fast rule. The aforementioned Study of High Net Worth Philanthropy found that only 32 percent of donors surveyed viewed write-offs as a key influencer of their decision to give. Moreover, 50 percent said they would continue giving if tax deductions ceased to exist, and do so at whatever monetary level they gave in the first place. Yet when communicating with potential contributors of more modest means, the tax incentive could be much more advantageous to their financial well-being, and thus more worthy of mention.

Encouraging involvement

Nolo recommended the use of incentives that provide donors with the opportunity to join in the work of nonprofit organizations – or at least to see it in action. Trips to locations where the charity conducts its principle mission duties could help open patrons’ eyes and hearts even further, while also allowing for the collection of information about more potential givers.
Creating volunteer programs focused around donors will be even more effective for all involved: Contributors with true passion for the cause receive a chance to contribute to it in a way they can see and feel, while also helping the greater success of a nonprofit’s various initiatives. Those who can’t make a commitment of that magnitude can’t be left out, however, so offering chances to work the phone lines or participate in social media campaigns can be just as ultimately valuable despite the smaller scale.

Learn More

The School of Public Affairs and Administration at Rutgers University-Newark, provider of the online Master of Public Administration, is accredited by the NASPAA. Before a program becomes eligible for accreditation by the NASPAA, its parent school must be recognized by a regional, national or international agency. Rutgers, The State University of New Jersey, is accredited by Middle States Commission on Higher Education and is a member of the Association of American Universities.

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