“Relational fundraising is my thing. I love to connect with people.”

—CEO of a nonprofit organization

In response to events of the past several years, donors have turned more of their attention—and their dollars—to local causes. Our 2021 Donor Insights Report confirmed that donors respond to local needs. To encourage further contributions and strengthen local connections, show donors how they can be part of your mission to positively impact the community.

1. Start with a clear vision that connects to your community

“This mission connects to the entire community…you keep seeing the ripple effect of…how many people are affected by that.”
—Nonprofit CEO

While donors may give to fill a need, they are not excited about contributing to a “needy” organization. Sharing a clear, inspiring vision story with potential donors in your community illustrates the value of your organization’s mission and how that work impacts people.

In crafting your vision story, keep it short and simple, so that all members associated with your organization, including volunteers, can easily share it with others. Routinely share stories of impact with your staff and volunteers and encourage them to share these stories in their personal and professional networks.

Provide training to staff and volunteers so that they can effectively carry your organization’s vision story into the community and create connections. “The message that donors are helping people right here in the community is very important to the donors that we partner with,” said a CEO of a nonprofit that we interviewed. “They know their funds are staying local, going to local children and their families. We do a lot of work out in the community to build and keep those relationships going.”

2. Involve your CEO in the fundraising process

“In the nonprofit world, you will find CEOs that have a fear of asking for money. It’s really important that the CEO is able to do major gift fundraising, that they enjoy relationship fundraising. As leaders, they need to be able to go out there and communicate.”

—Nonprofit CEO

If your CEO is new to or a bit intimidated by fundraising, invite them to training(s) and coach them to build comfort and confidence. Take them on stewardship visits, prepping them ahead of time to share the impact of the donor’s contribution.

One reason nonprofit CEOs may shy away from philanthropy is that they view it as “begging” for dollars. Work to reset that attitude: Philanthropy is about providing an opportunity for people to make a difference for others—and to experience great joy from doing so. “Your CEO doesn’t have to be the best fundraiser,” said one CDO that we interviewed, “They just have to be willing to share the mission of your organization and tell the beautiful stories of how you are making a difference.”

3. Focus on the community connections

“It is important to have staff on the ground that are familiar with that community. Donors can connect with them better and relate to them directly.”

—Nonprofit CEO

While the ideal is having staff “on the ground,” fundraising in the communities in which they live, that might not always be possible. If not, rely on dedicated volunteers and donors to carry your organization’s vision into the community and make connections. Provide training so they are equipped to articulate the vision and funding priorities that will help achieve the vision—and to share stories of how your organization’s work impacts the community.

If volunteers seem like they would be comfortable doing so, ask them to accompany you when you visit potential donors they’ve identified. Be sure to prep them ahead of time regarding their role in the meeting. Every time you meet with someone, plant the seeds for cultivating additional connections within the community. “Never leave a meeting without asking, ‘Now who do you think I should connect with next? And will you help me connect with them?’” said a nonprofit CEO we interviewed.

4. Provide a personal touch to stewardship

“I have found that the more I thank people, whether I’m writing them a handwritten note or I pick up the phone, the more they continue to give.”

—Nonprofit CEO

Personalized expressions of gratitude are a powerful way to deepen a donor’s connection and commitment. DonorsChoose, a nonprofit that helps provide school supplies for classrooms, discovered that when a donor received a handwritten thank you note from students in the class they helped, that donor made a larger contribution in the following year. Imagine the power of a thank you from your organization if it came from someone personally—such as your CEO or a beneficiary of the donor’s generosity—living right in the donor’s community.

Many donors’ initial contributions may be in response to filling a need; they give because they feel they ought to help support their community. Our opportunity is to share a compelling story of community impact and provide meaningful ways for donors to express the care and love they have for the place they call home.


Learn more about the ways in which your organization can tap into the power of the community connection—attend Transforming Your Organization with Individual Giving or contact us about training for your board members and volunteers.