Finding donors and expanding circles of influence


Fundraising Tips


Resources Feb. 27th, 2024

If you feel overwhelmed by the thought of fundraising, you are not alone.

Most people understand the importance of fundraising for a cause, but are in the dark when it comes to questions like “who do I ask for money?”, “how much should I ask for?”, and “how many people do I need to ask?”

Fear not! By following the framework below you can take out a lot of guesswork when it comes to the nuts and bolts of building a fundraising list.

Donor Circles – Who To Ask For a Donation

Everyone has a close group of friends, casual acquaintances, and organizations and networks that they belong to and believe in, and these people and groups are ripe with potential donors to your cause.

Imagine standing in a park, and in this park is every single person you have ever interacted with on a regular basis. These people are family, close friends, friends from high school, your neighbor down the street that you chat with at the grocery store, and co-workers. Next, think about that one guy, you know, with the dog and the kid in Canada or something that you always talk to when you go to that monthly breakfast, or that one woman who always loves to talk to you at community council meetings. After picturing that group of individuals, picture people you don’t know personally, but you feel could be friendly to your cause (at least friendly enough to donate and/or provide volunteers). Finally, picture groups that you agree with but don’t interact with such as chambers of commerce, unions, and/or advocacy groups. Now, imagine these people all radiating out from you, with those closest to you being, well, closer to you in the park. Congratulations! You just created a donor circle that you can reference when you are looking for that next donor.

How to Tailor your Donation Asks

Friends and Family

Both the easiest and hardest place to start your fundraising is with your family and friends. It is the easiest because you know these people well and, frankly, they are more likely to give to you when compared to the general public; it is the hardest because, c’mon, you know these people and, ya know, see them a lot.

Though this is a very common feeling, it is also a very personal one. A good way of reframing your feelings towards asking friends and family for money is to ask yourself the question “if THEY were running for office, would I feel upset if they asked ME for a donation?” In most cases you would probably say “no, of course not!” You may not give to them, mind you, but odds are good that you wouldn’t be offended by the ask.

Colleagues and Acquaintances

After you have made an initial pass at your friends and family list, start to expand out to the second circle – your colleagues and associates. In general, these are people that know who you are and will likely recognize you when you call, but you may not see them on a regular basis or it may even have been a number of years since you’ve talked to them. For example, people in your place of work, business associates, and friends of friends. Dig deep here! Bottom line, if you bumped into them in a grocery story and you’d say “hi,” you need to add them to your fundraising list. 

Think through who you went to high school and college with. Are you active in your church, play a community sports team, or are you part of a Rotary and Lions Club? What about the parents of your children’s friends? All these people should become part of your fundraising list.

Professional, Recreational, Civic, and Religious Groups

The various professional, recreational, civic, and religious groups you are a part of is the next tier out. These contacts are people that may or may not know you, but likely need some context to remember where or how they know you. For example, maybe you volunteer with a group and are calling other volunteers you’ve met there? 

These asks do tend to be more generic when compared to those closest to you, so it is a good idea to have some form of elevator speech ready when you are starting these conversations. These elevator speeches should be about 30 seconds to a minute in length and provide a brief explanation of why you are running and that you would appreciate their support. Again, most people understand that running for office costs money and are not going to be offended by you simply approaching them.

Political Donors and Community Activists

Once you move past this circle, you start to enter a donor circle of people who may, at best, only know your name: political donors and community leaders. Political donors are individuals who, for various reasons, choose to donate to campaigns because they agree with a cause on a philosophical rather than personal level. Similarly, community leaders are an important group of individuals to reach out to because, though they may not have funds themselves, they are often connected to individuals who may be willing to donate if they believe in your vision.

The conversations with political donors and community leaders tend to be more transactional in nature – and, no, we are not talking about buying votes here – these conversations are transactional because you are selling the viability and/or vision for your cause. In short, they are interested in what you want to do and how you plan to do it. Because of this, you will want to tailor your asks as necessary – highlighting particular aspects of your platform in hopes that these people will get on board by providing funds, volunteers, or both.

Institutional and Transactional Donors

Similar to political donors and community activists are institutional and transactional donors – the main difference is that the check you hope to receive won’t be coming from a person, but an organization.

These types of donations tend to take the longest time to receive, but also tend to be the largest monetarily. The reason for this is simple: these types of donors tend to have a single set of issues that they care deeply about and they want to ensure that they are helping candidates that align with their vision. Because of this, there is usually a formal interview process (that is often scored), that a committee will use to determine who gets what and in what amount. 

Though you should always have an idea about what your potential donors are interested in, you will do yourself a grave disservice if you don’t take the time to research these donors to find out what specific issues they are interested in before you sit down for a conversation. 

Be warned: these donors probably know more about their issues than you do and will ask specific questions about how you would vote on distinct topics. Be honest and never say you would vote one way when you would plan to vote another. If you are lucky enough to get elected, these groups will remember your answers and they could punish you for your change in tune in the next election by helping a candidate that better aligns with their feelings.

As we said above, institutional and transactional donors take the most time to earn. You will want to start reaching out to these groups relatively early in your cause and you shouldn’t plan to hear from them for several months (if at all).

What’s next?

So, you should now have a good idea of who you plan to approach for donations, but how do you budget for a cause based on this? Well, FundHero is here to help. Take a look at our thoughts on other Fundraising Tips to learn more!

Eric Bloom

With 17 years of experience, I have become accustomed to identifying key issues in order to craft impactful operational strategies, while fostering trust through exceeding expectations. My cross-industry experience (from politics to finance to healthcare to name a few) informs innovative solutions, tailored to address unique concerns and bolster the reach and effectiveness of initiatives.