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Building a Donor Pipeline for Small or New Nonprofits

7 min read
March 16, 2023
Neon One Staff
In this image, a group of volunteers collect and organize donations. Events like these foster stewardship and are a crucial part of building a donor pipeline.

Your donor pipeline is the system that brings new donors into your cause. As you identify donors, cultivate relationships, and solicit donations, your supporters go through several stages, beginning with awareness and ending in active support. But how you guide them through this pipeline will determine whether they’ll stop at a single donation or become long-term, committed supporters of your organization.

5 Stages for Building a Donor Pipeline

While your donor pipeline will change based on your organization’s type, networks, goals, and strategies, it’s going to follow the same broad steps: identify, qualify, cultivate, solicit, and steward.

Stage 1: Identify

At the identification stage, you’re casting the broadest possible net to find all potential donors with connections to your organization. The top reason donors give is that they care about the cause. Finding individuals with a history of giving to causes like yours through prospect research can help you reach these new donors. They may be connected to somebody in your internal network, reading your content online, or participating in your social media platforms.

With a CRM, you can use data to find these individuals. By parsing information about people’s personal and business connections, you can find new links to those connected to your network. However, this isn’t the time to reach out for an appeal. You’ll want to qualify your donors first.

Stage 2: Qualify

Now that you have a list of potential donors, you need to qualify them as your most likely supporters. You can start by segmenting the donor data in your system. For example, someone who liked a social media post wouldn’t be as strong a potential donor as someone who attended an in-person event. You can segment these donors into two separate groups so you know how much time and effort to invest in cultivating the relationship.

With a powerful CRM, you can break these qualification standards down into highly granular categories. Who they’re connected to, how they’ve interacted with your organization, their interests or wealth, all these details can be used to segment your audiences for the next stage: cultivation.

Stage 3: Cultivate

Donor cultivation is all about building rapport. You want to establish a personal relationship before you move on to the “big ask”. Building that relationship will require regular communication that speaks to the needs and interests of that specific individual. This is another area where donor segmentation becomes critically important.

You can use this to tailor your communication. For example, you may change your messaging for one-time donors versus repeat givers. The repeat givers may receive regular communication about various community happenings to keep them engaged with your cause. Meanwhile, your one-time givers will receive an email specifically referencing their one-time gift and how important it was. This sets the stage for your request.

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Stage 4: Solicit

Once a relationship has been established with a potential donor, you can start to solicit donations. While most nonprofits focus on email, you may also want to adapt your method based on your donor’s information.

For example, if you have a donor who only ever sent in physical donations or attended in-person events, you may want to segment them into a direct mail category where your requests are first sent via postal mail instead of email.

It also helps to give the donor some set parameters for giving. You’ll want to adapt these based on their history with your organization and what donors like them tend to give. If you had a person who gave $10 in the past, you wouldn’t ask for a donation of $100. You’d adapt your ask based on what they’re likely to give.

You also need to remind the donor of their potential impact with the donation and be as specific as possible. And while it might be tempting to emphasize a large impact, studies have found that it’s much better to emphasize the impact to a single individual. Don’t talk about the hundreds of dogs that your animal shelter has saved and adopted out, talk about how this person’s donation impacted a single pit-boxer mix named Hoss. 

Donors will be much more responsive. However you choose to do it, just make sure that you tie that person’s donation to its impact, as that’s something that you’re going to do again when you thank your donor and cultivate an ongoing relationship.

Stage 5: Stewardship

Stewardship is the long-term maintenance of your relationship with your donor. A big part of this is regularly expressing two things: the impact of their donation, and your appreciation for their gift. Thank-you letters, public recognition, donor-focused events, and exclusive communities can all be a part of cultivating that long-term relationship.

Tracking your interactions with these donors is important because they help you better understand your donors, which can then guide your outreach to them in the future. If your donor spends a lot of time interacting with your nonprofit online, invite them to a digital event or webinar. If they give a particularly high donation, you may reach out to them with a personal phone call to thank them for their support.

Your donor’s behavior should set the standard for your stewardship. This personal approach allows you to make a long-term connection as you continuously show their impact on your organization.

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Monitoring Your Pipeline and Identifying Opportunities To Improve

A pipeline can show your donor’s journey in real-time, as well as ways to improve it. For example, you may see a donor discovered you through a Google search, visited a few specific pages on your nonprofit’s website, and then went to your donation page to make a payment with their credit card for $25. 

All the information in those steps will tell you a lot about the donor. The fact that they’re actively searching online for causes like yours is a strong indicator that they’re highly motivated to donate. The individual pages they visited will tell you what information is important to them. When you track this data you can also identify opportunities to improve.

Say, for example, you noticed you were getting a lot of visits to your website based on a specific keyword. But then most people left your site after viewing only a single blog post. When you can see that problem, you can examine it and find ways to fix it. You may find that you’ve targeted the wrong keyword, or that the keyword is correct but your page isn’t convincing prospective donors. You may need to update your content.

A detailed CRM is going to build transparency into that donor pipeline. You will be able to see how quickly people move through the funnel and where you’re losing them. It will also offer ways to segment your data, automate communications, and improve your relationships as your organization grows.

How Neon CRM Can Help You Build Your Pipeline

When building a donor pipeline, it’s critical to use a nonprofit CRM that allows you to manage all of your donor data in one place. That way, you can track interactions, manage relationships, and improve your outreach. A growing nonprofit will need something scalable so it can keep up as the donor database grows. 

Neon CRM is an essential tool for building a strong and sustainable donor pipeline. We help you segment your donors, personalize your communications, and build lasting relationships that will grow your reach. Connect with us to schedule a demo.

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