By Victoria Dietz, Executive Vice President, The Curtis Group

What does it mean to have a pipeline of donors? In its simplest form, your pipeline is a structured way for you to convert prospective donors into current donors and to secure increasingly generous support from those current donors.

At its core, it means that you have enough donors at every stage of the fundraising cycle and at different giving levels, so you can raise the support necessary to meet your goals and help your organization meet its mission.

Whether you are a large non-profit with a budget to try new fundraising approaches, or a small organization with a small staff, below are five strategies that will build your pipeline to major gifts.

  • Retention Is Key – Before you launch into spending time and resources on acquisition, make sure you have a sound donor retention strategy. According to a recently released Fundraising Effectiveness Project report, in Q4 of 2022, retention dropped over 3% from the previous year. This lowers an already abysmal retention rate to only 42.6% for 2022, the lowest rate on record.  Maintaining and even growing the engagement of your current donors is a sound investment. You will save time, resources and headaches by strategizing how to improve your donor retention rate. For more information on donor retention, read this blog post: 5 steps to retain your donors.
  • Leverage Your Board – Hopefully, your board is a group of individuals who care deeply about your mission. This is a great starting point. From here, setting expectations is key. Whether these are existing board members or prospective members, it is always the right time to set clear expectations. And within those expectations, fundraising needs to be emphasized. Your nonprofit should be at the top of their giving priorities. More than that, they should be connectors. One way to grow your pipeline is to inspire your board to think of others in their sphere of influence who would join them. As staff, your role is to help them with the process, create a plan and timeline, and provide them with what they need to spread the word about their involvement at and support of your organization. We recommend starting small: “Who are two people you think should learn more about our work? Are you willing to help connect me to them?” At our firm, we spend a great deal of time strengthening, coaching and growing the boards of our clients. Invest time and energy in your board, and it will expand your donor pipeline. Below are a few more resources about board engagement.
  • Thank with Sincerity – Stewardship is critical. A gift is just the first step. To build your donor pipeline, you must shepherd your donors. This ties directly back to your retention rate. The primary way to keep or even grow support from a donor is to engage them between solicitations. Send personal thank you notes, updates and invitations. We have written regularly about donor cultivation and stewardship. For more creative ideas on stewardship, check out some of these blog posts and webinars:
  • Get Out From Behind Your Desk – The to-do list and email inbox never seem to shrink. While we know that donor relationships should be at the top of our list, we struggle to get out from behind our desk. How can you make that change, especially in smaller shops where you wear many hats? The first step is to know how you spend your time. Consider implementing a time sheet, so you can see where you are getting bogged down. Identify the actions that do not allow you to maximize resources for your organization. Consider sharing that analysis with your leadership and/or the board, so together you can brainstorm ways for you to spend more time building your donor pipeline through cultivating and stewarding properly. Transformational major gifts happen in one-on-one interactions and not through social media, direct mail or events. The bulk of your time should be spent on donor cultivation as stewardship. Check out this webinar for more practical ways to Build Personal Capacity.
  • Use Technology to Your Advantage – Metrics matter. Your database is a good tool. Pull reports to analyze your current donor base and set benchmarks to measure your success. Check out our blog post on metrics to learn more about what you should be tracking. You can also use your data as a launching point for additional analysis. Consider wealth screening your database to identify those with potential to increase their support.

Identify one thing from the above list that you could incorporate into your fundraising program today.