Finding New Donors Who Believe in You

I would say that one of the most frequent questions I get asked is, “Can you help me find new donors?”

This question seems to weigh on every fundraiser’s mind, and some people even try to hire The FOCUS Group to help them answer it. Unfortunately, we can’t do that. The truth is, you don’t need us for that. In reality, you already have all the donors you need.

This answer seems to be one of the most frustrating answers I give. There’s this powerful myth out there that the solution to all of your fundraising problems is finding more donors. The real solution is being a good steward of the donors you already have. 

Over the last 30 years, I’ve gotten the chance to work with hundreds of nonprofits, allowing me to observe a consistent theme: Most organizations allow 50% or more of their donors to lapse on an annual basis— effectively allowing donors to walk out the back door. Sure, some of that has to do with timing (a donor may give in December of one year, and then 13 months later give a gift in January), but the majority of the lapsed donors are just that – lapsed donors. 

It is much harder to find a new donor than to keep an existing one. So why are we prone to search for the new donor while we neglect the donors we already have – people who have already demonstrated that they believe in our mission? 

Why does this happen? I would say this happens because we haven’t applied the fifth principle of Taking Donors Seriously, which is the “plan.” We don’t have a plan for taking care of our donors. 

Based on the commitment level of the donor (both time and money), we need to relationally pursue each donor as appropriately and meaningfully as possible. For a tier one donor, this probably means taking them out for coffee or lunch a few times a year; for a tier two donor, this could look like a smaller group gathering and a phone call; for a tier three donor, it might mean inviting them to a large event and following up with emails. By applying this formula – looking at the tiers of commitment level ¬– you effectively shut the back door and keep a much higher percentage of your donors on an annual basis. 

So today I want to introduce you to your new donor at no charge – your lapsed donors! If you’re like most organizations, you have thousands of names of people who used to give and are no longer giving. They already have a connection to you, and they’ve already told you they care about you. All you have to do is develop a strategy to reach out to them. 

If this person was a large donor in the past, your strategy should be to simply call them and say, “I don’t know you, but you gave a large gift to our organization. I want to thank you and also ask you, what made you give that gift?” Your goal is to connect with that person, their story, and their reason for giving. If the person was a medium or small donor in the past, you could do the same thing via email or a survey. 

The bottom line: You already have all the donors you need. What you need to do is recognize that fact and make a commitment to shut the back door!

If you want to hear more about this story, listen to the Taking Donor Seriously Podcast where I further explain this story.


  1. Great article above. I totally agree. Thanks for sharing.

  2. Hi Brad – This is the first time that I have seen your monthly email. Perhaps you sent it previously, or maybe you just added me to the list.

    In any case, I read a past few months, and this is a great blog or update or whatever you are calling it.

    Well done. URM is fortunately to receive your advice. I hope our staff is continuing to listen to you.


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