Donors don't donate just because they have money

Have you ever heard of the “dowsing“? No? Then what about “divining,” “doodlebugging” or “water witching“? Oh, come on . . . I am sure you have heard these terms, but you probably don’t recall. All of these words describe a process whereby someone uses a Y-shaped stick to locate groundwater. In fact, sometimes people use this process to locate gems, ores, metals, oil, and even graves. Don’t believe me . . . click here and read about it on Wikipedia.
If you want to see what water witching looks like, you can click on this YouTube video and check it out.
For the record, there is no scientific evidence that proves that water witching works.
I’ve been thinking about water witching a lot for the last few days after a conversation with a fellow fundraising professional. Here was the gist of that discussion:

  • waterwitch1Wow! We have lots of money in our community.
  • I need help identifying who has that money.
  • I need access to tools like WealthEngine and Target Analytics to identify who has money?
  • Once I get that prospect list of wealthy individuals put together, I will ask all of them for money and life will be good.

Please don’t misunderstand me. I think very highly of sophisticated tools like WealthEngine and Target Analytics. Very powerful stuff!
What I am bristling about this morning is the assertion that affluent people will give to you just because you’ve identified them and asked them to share their wealth with you.
I hate to be the party pooper here. But neither tech tools or a Y-shaped stick will ever take the place of good old fashion relationship building.
networkingHere is a recipe I suggest you consider when it comes to your prospect identification strategy:

  1. Use your network, your current donors’ network, and your board members’ circle of influence to identify other individuals and companies who like your agency’s mission.
  2. Sit down with those individuals and companies. Talk about your mission, vision, goals, programs, outcomes and impact. Tell them stories about your clients and the impact you’re having on their lives.
  3. Invite these prospects to tour your facility. Help them see you in action.
  4. Ask these prospects to get involved. Join a committee. Do some volunteering.
  5. Invite them to one of your special event fundraisers. And down the road engage them in your annual campaign pledge drive.
  6. After these people renew their contribution and support a few times, then you may want to invest in a donor screening or donor profiling project using WealthEngine or Target Analytics.

magic treeOh heck . . . if you don’t want to follow this simple, sound and proven advice, then hire me. I am happy to be your water witch. Just give me a moment to run out back and pick a fresh Y-shaped stick off of my magic fundraising tree.
How does your agency find new prospective donors? There are many different strategies. Please use the comment box below and share. We can all learn from each other.
Here’s to your health!
Erik Anderson
Founder & President, The Healthy Non-Profit LLC!/eanderson847


  1. I just recently had a conversation with a board member who wanted to “purchase” a whole zip code (in a major city) to mail invitations to a fundraiser. (We are small, grassroots, very much a “niche” organization.) Wish I had had the “water witching” metaphor for that conversation!! I’m keeping that in my pocket for future discussions! Thanks!

    1. Dana … For the record, I am also OK with NFPs purchasing address lists and carpet bombing a zip code. However …
      1. It should be for donor acquisition purposes.
      2. It should be understood that the ROI will likely be in the red.
      3. It should be a direct mail approach and not a special event ask.
      Good luck with your quest to educate board members and volunteers about resource development best practices! And please keep your comments coming.
      BTW … Who knew Texans were afraid of a little ice and snow.
      LOL. j/k. 😉

  2. I agree! But our mission is so very hard to nail down to specific zip codes. Miami and Brooklyn are the only ones I think would be worthwhile!
    Yes, ice and snow keep Texans inside. I’m originally from Pittsburgh so I’ve been laughing at Texans for day snow! But 2 snow days later (making for a 4 day weekend) and I’m ready to send the kids back to school even if they have to walk! 🙂

    1. Jana … You may want to contact a mail house and ask those questions. You can parse down zip codes quite effectively with other criteria. The mail house will answer your preliminary questions because they want your business. Just a thought!

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