Going Grassroots: 6 Strategies for Small Scale Donor Engagement


This post first appeared in Philanthropy Front and Center San Francisco.

Donor acquisition can be a daunting task for smaller grassroots organizations. Who has the time, the staffing, or the resources for a donor acquisition strategy when you’re a staff of a few or none?

Over a hundred people gathered in person and virtually at Foundation Center San Francisco's Donor Acquisition Beyond Direct Mail event for an in-depth discussion of grassroots outreach strategies. Moderator Lisa Hoffman led an informative discussion on the topic with Heather Buchheim of Exhale, Sherri Franklin of Muttville, and Cecilie Surasky of Jewish Voice for Peace.

Representatives shared their first-hand experiences with donor acquisition, both successful strategies and a few things learned the hard way. Here are six key takeaways:

1. First and foremost: Try and try again!  Be creative and don’t get discouraged by setbacks. Experiment with a variety of engagement techniques, particularly in the lead up to a larger campaign. Start small; these don’t need to be expensive or time consuming efforts. For creative campaign ideas that are working for Exhale, watch this video segment

2.  Engage!  Creating a culture of engagement throughout your donor cultivation will keep people feeling connected and invested. Share your successes regularly and encourage your networks to share with their networks.

3. Start with your homepage.  This is the “face” of your organization, so make it something you can be proud of, and give it a job. Try adding a lightbox to your homepage that will give first time visitors the option to sign a petition, make a $1 pledge, or subscribe to your email list. (See this video segment at 1:11:12 for software ideas.)

4. Find a buddy!  Partnerships with organizations supporting similar causes are an easy way to access potential donors who are already interested in your mission. Partner with other organizations to support linked campaigns, and give recipients the option to sign up for all the partner orgs’ email lists.

5. Think strategically.  Be aware of current events in your field and plan campaigns that are both timely and framed within context. Tell your story in a way that makes your organization relevant to the larger picture, and show the impact you’re having on the field.

6. Be CLEAR and make it EASY (27:15).  What’s your story? What’s your call to action? And what can you do to make supporting your organization as easy as possible? Get creative with the types of support your organization accepts to be accessible to your supporters. Opening your organization to in-kind support could pave the way for monetary donations in the future.d

Watch the full recording of this popular session below. Can't see the video window? Watch it on YouTube.

Mark your calendars for the next Foundation Center livestream on September 30th, Fundraising for Social Change: What’s New, What’s Hot; What’s Over, What’s Not with internationally known fundraising expert Kim Klein!


AIDA BUDERI is Capacity and Leadership Development Program Assistant at Foundation Center San Francisco, and is motivated by meeting the passionate people behind the nonprofits that attend FC Trainings. Prior to working with Foundation Center, she worked with the International Rescue Committee and holds a degree in Global Studies from the University of California, Santa Barbara. She hopes to meet you virtually in a Foundation Center webinar someday.