Individual Donors
last updated April 26, 2011


An individual donor base can be a critically important element of a NGO's success. Developing an individual donor base may, of course, be a difficult task in CEE/FSU where many communities are experiencing economic harship. If at all possible, however, cultivating a local donor base can have a number of advantages—not only does it provide a source of revenue, but the process of building this base helps increase the organization's visibility within the community. A local donor base can also be a significant "selling point" in seeking funding from regional or international donors. Larger donors rarely want to be the sole source of funding for a project. In the donor's view, a donor base within the community not only makes for a more sustainable project, but also indicates community support. (This is true for both individuals and businesses within the community.) Finally, individual donations may be "unrestricted" funds that can support the work of the organization as a whole, in contrast to grants, which may be limited to particular programs or projects.

 

In many countries in CEE/FSU, legislation such as the Law on Public Benefit Activity and Volunteerism that was recently passed in Poland allows individuals to donate 1% of their personal income tax to public benefit companies. The Law on the National Civil Fund in Hungary provides that the government will match all funds donated by individuals to the National Civil Fund under the 1% tax designation rule.

Some groups that might become individual donors include the members of the board of directors, clients of the organization, and past donors and volunteers. In seeking donations from individual donors, it is best to ask for a specific amount of money, and to indicate to the prospective donor what that money will support. In soliciting individual donations, an organization should not just ask for support, but should ask for a contribution by a certain date or within two weeks. The deadline should not be arbitrary, but should be tied to a particular reason (such as a project deadline, or the end of the fiscal year).

There are many reasons why individuals might give to an organization, and in planning a fundraising campaign, it is important to think about the organization's most valuable selling points in the local community. As explained in Andy Robinson's Why People (and Foundations) Give Away Their Money, people (including individuals, corporations and even foundations) give for many reasons—because they care about the issue, they believe the organization is credible and effective, they are referred to the organization by someone they trust, or they believe the project or organization meets a unique need. The most effective fundraising strategies will be those that incorporate and grow out of these motivations.

Many organizations use direct mail to solicit individual donations, although the usefulness of this approach may vary from country to country. In the United States, individuals are often contacted through solicitation letters that include an addressed and stamped reply envelope that can be used to send a contribution. In other countries, however, people may not rely as heavily on the mail system or on personal checks, and may feel more comfortable calling or faxing with a credit card number or bank transfer order. Direct mail and other types of fundraising campaigns are discussed in detail on Idealist.org.

An individual donor base can also be cultivated through special events. A special event might be an auction, the proceeds from which are donated to the organization, or an annual sponsor dinner. Special fundraising events, however, can be expensive and may not generate a profit until after they have been repeated a number of times. Finally, such events need to be consistent with the local religious and historical context.

Some "special event fundraisers" are events where people pay to do something they would otherwise do for free or for a lower cost, such as a running, walking, or bike riding. The individual participant may cover the cost of participating by soliciting individual donations (these donations can be tied to the number of miles walked or biked). About.com offers a good description of these kinds of fundraisers and things to consider in planning such events.

Idealist.org has posted a collection of advice about hosting special events, including technical factors, such as whether and, if so, how, to host a special event fundraiser and how to find sponsors. Zimmerman Lehman's Special Events: A Recipe for Success also offers a good roadmap of the special event planning process.

Soliciting donations by email requires attention to a few additional details. Donor Digital provides a great list of tips that are further discussed in the section on using the internet effectively.