Fundraising Lessons from the Best Neighborhood in America, image shows two story brick homes all in a row with american flags flying off their porches

Fundraising Lessons from the Best Neighborhood in America

I live in the best neighborhood in America. But I almost passed it by.

By Jessica Browning, MBA

When we were searching for a home 20 years ago, all we saw were the 1980s facades of our neighborhood. Eight-foot ceilings. A few weeds in the flower beds. Across the way was a neighborhood filled with new and beautiful homes. Luxury cars in the driveway. Hedges carefully sculpted by landscape crews. It was tempting. 

We kept hearing good things about the older neighborhood, so we took a chance. We’re forever grateful for that decision.  

When I think of my neighborhood, I’m reminded of this old fundraising saying: it’s easier to get someone who cares to give money than it is to get someone with money to care.

Our neighborhood is the embodiment of this adage.  

Every month, a rotating group of volunteers serves a monthly meal at the children’s hospital. Signup geniuses for a neighbor in need are filled within an hour.  My husband (bless his heart) fills our yard with tacky holiday inflatables, yet he’s still bested by the four-story Santa down the street. When our beloved mailman retired a few years ago, we raised $900 to thank him for his service.  

What we lack in appearance we make up for in heart.

I used to be surprised when I saw so many of my neighbors on major donor lists. Or when I found out they were on the boards of major nonprofits in the area. Not anymore.  

There’s a lesson here that I remind myself about frequently. While it’s tempting to focus primarily on wealthier zip codes or upscale neighborhoods, it’s leaving significant money on the table.  

More importantly, focusing on capacity only misses opportunities to develop relationships with donors who will be with you when times get tough. Those donors who, when cultivated properly, will increase their gifts year after year. 

It’s good practice to look at historic giving patterns as often as you look at wealth screening results. Use predictive and prospective modeling to identify donor prospects and suspects who look like your current donors. Remember that not everyone with money cares. Or their drive for conspicuous consumption leaves little left over to give away. By taking a more comprehensive approach to donor prospecting, you can increase the likelihood of finding the right donors who align with your mission and vision. 

About the Author

Jessica Browning, Winkler Group Principal and Executive Vice President, has helped lead nonprofit organizations for more than 25 years. An award-winning case statement writer, Jessica is a specialist in donor communications and a former member of the Giving USA Editorial Review Board. Jessica received a B.A. from Duke University as well as an M.A. and M.B.A. from the College of William & Mary. Connect with Jessica on LinkedIn.

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