Who should you be talking to?

How effective would you be in the game of darts if you were blindfolded? Not very I would guess! It’s the same in fundraising – if you don’t know who your primary target audience is, you might as well be blindfolded.

If you’ve been in the fundraising field for any length of time, I’m sure you’ve heard the terms linkage, ability and interest. It never hurts to revisit the basics, so here we go:

  • Linkage. Most gifts to organizations do not come from strangers. They come from people who are connected to, or linked to, your organization in some way. An exercise I will often do with clients is to draw a target – then fill in the groups of people who are connected to the organization. Board members and volunteers are typically the closest. The clients themselves, family members, vendors, companies that might benefit indirectly from what you do and the community around your physical location are some categories that might apply to your organization. Spend some time on this exercise. As a side note, when you’re talking about major gifts, change this exercise from identifying groups to identifying individual people (or companies) who are linked to your organization.
  • Ability. Next, especially with major gifts, you want to identify whether or not those individuals (or groups) have the ability to make a gift to your organization. This can be accomplished with a focus group – maybe some members of your board with some additional community leaders – or through paid research. There are ‘prospect researchers’ who can compile a portfolio of information about each of your potential donors. In addition, there are companies that will complete a ‘wealth screening’ to help you identify people in your current donor pool who have the ability to give larger gifts.
  • Interest. Do they have any interest in your cause? Just because they are connected and have the ability doesn’t mean that they’re interested. With a major gift program, you’ll likely be meeting with people individually to help determine whether your organization is the right one to fulfill the donor’s philanthropic goals. If it’s not a good fit, they might know others who would be (don’t forget to ask that question). With overall giving programs, social media has given us new ways to let potential givers express interest in our cause. Facebook pages, Twitter, LinkedIn pages, Causes, etc. If you’re looking at purchasing a list, be sure that you’re narrowing it beyond wealth indicators (i.e. a ministry might want to focus in on people who have contributed to other religious causes or an environmental group might want to focus in on people who have subscribed to environmental-related publications.

Easy, right? Well, simple at least. Linkage. Ability. Interest.

Who comes to mind?

What are you waiting for? Pick up the phone and invite someone for coffee.


Who should you be talking to? — 3 Comments

  1. Kirsten,

    Great advice! These are tried and true – but how many of us get suggestions for the rich guy (“who might know Mr. Businessman?!”), the wealthy woman (“I think she attended an event of ours 7 years ago”)! Some of the best prospects are not the most exciting people around town, but those who may be unveiled by further cultivation. Thanks for sharing this!

    • Thanks Beth Ann for your comments. Another response we probably get all too often is to approach the person who just gave a multi-million dollar gift to another organization in town (regardless of linkage or interest).

  2. Thanks for the review of linkage, Kirsten. I think we often underutilize the folks that have shown they are interested in our cause. We don’t need to find new people as often as we need to make new requests of the loyal supporters we have.