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The Formula For Fundraising Success

It’s not rocket science.

But it is a well-documented best practice in fundraising. In fact, it’s the primary reason major gift programs and capital campaigns succeed, regardless of organization size.

The formula for fundraising success is simple: Top-Down and Inside-Out.


Start by focusing on your largest donors—either in terms of the size of one-time gifts or their lifetime giving to the organization. These are the people who have already demonstrated they meet the ABC criteria of giving: Ability, Belief, and Connection.


The famous 80/20 Principle (Pareto Principle) applies to the nonprofit sector as well: 80% of the gifts come from 20% of the donors. In some cases, it’s more of a 90/10 split. Since you have limited time, start by getting to know the top 10% of your donors today.


Even if you don’t have comprehensive donation data to inform a complete Top-Down strategy, your organization can certainly try an Inside-Out focus. Who are the insiders for your organization? They might include volunteers, former board members, and key ambassadors. Those who are closest to your mission—and engaged in its operations—are also most inclined to make a gift in alignment with their ability.


These approaches can be deployed for a variety of fundraising efforts. If you’re striving to raise funds for a significant goal like a campaign, or building a more intentional major gift program, you’ll want to use both strategies.

Regardless of your specific fundraising initiative or priority area, test at least one approach:

  • Through your donor database, pull a report of the top 10% of your donors. Give each one a quick call to thank them for being a champion for your organization.

  • At your next board meeting, lead a 15-minute brainstorming session to identify the “insiders” to your organization. Have each board member commit to one meaningful cultivation activity with 2-3 of these insiders before your next meeting.

  • For your next appeal, use Top-Down and Inside-Out to reach the segments of your list that are most likely to respond favorably.

Chat back…

  • Remember: you already know your best prospects! How are you connecting to individuals who are closest to your organization—current donors, volunteers, and ambassadors?

  • What’s holding you back from identifying your top 10% or your insiders? Where are you stuck?

Chalkboard formula image by Photo by Andrea Piacquadio on Pexels. Injustice sign image by Heather Mount on Unsplash.


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