Are we asking for referrals?

One of the tools that are sometimes overlooked by fundraisers is the technique of using referrals from existing donors to reach new donors.

Kevin Strickland writes, “More than 80% of donors would recommend their organization to another potential donor” and “referrals from existing donors are roughly three times more likely to turn into a closed gift than a referral from your friendly local accountants and attorneys.”

Despite that, the technique often is not used. Why?¬†Strickland thinks it’s because fundraisers are:

  • Too busy with current gifts
  • Not comfortable asking for a referral
  • Satisfied that donors will make a referral with our asking for it
  • Not sure how to approach a donor and ask for a referral
  • Convinced it’s not part of the fundraising process
  • Afraid it might be awkward for the existing donor or it might jeopardize the relationship already developed with the donor
  • And so on

If using referrals is not a part of an organization’s fundraising process, Strickland suggests three remedial steps:

  1. “Find out why,” he wrote. “Some may need to be reminded that this is a proven strategy for generating leads.”
  2. “Break the process down into its key elements: (a) Identify which 15 to 20 satisfied existing donors to target; (b) Plan the approach (when to ask, how to position the request); and (c) Execute the plan deliberately and consistently.”
  3. “Challenge your staff to try this out for the next few weeks. Get them to agree to ask a certain number of existing donors for referrals in that period.”
Strickland is founder and president of the Not for Profit Group. Among his coaching tips for not-for-profit managers is the article “Why Aren’t People Asking for Referrals?”
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