Posted , by By Keith Curtis, President. Topic: Arts & Culture, Donor Prospects, Major Donors.

The search for new donors can be costly and time-consuming … and let’s face it, as an arts and culture nonprofit, you’d rather be focusing on programs. What if I told you that’s the same place you should be looking for donors? Because the best prospects are already right under your nose, and already passionate about your work.

Members and subscribers are often overlooked as potential donors—or perhaps recognized, but not identified and cultivated strategically. I recently presented “Getting The Most from Your Members,” alongside Rosita Bradham from Blackbaud, at the national bbcon conference in Austin. As Rosita and I explained to nonprofit professionals from the arts & culture sector, moving members to donors is important for your organization’s growth, financial stability and sustainability. Of course, it is important to keep in mind that not every member is a prospect. But, if you are able to strategically identify and cultivate those with capacity, you can move them from member/ticket purchaser to loyal major donor.

How do you get members to think about making a gift? And which ones should you be targeting? These four steps will help you think strategically as you work to engage this natural prospect pool.

1. Know where to look.
• Start by leveraging your database and technology.
• Pull reports of event attendees, subscribers and individual ticket purchasers.
• Narrow this data and conduct list review sessions with your board and staff. If you have the tools, wealth-screen the list at least once a year.
Don’t try to digest these long lists all at once. Break the data into manageable chunks and get as many eyes as possible on them to see which names bubble to the top. Being strategic might mean narrowing the pool down to the 5-10% who would be strong prospects. And, it is important to remember the sequential rules of fundraising—prioritize your best prospects first (and that doesn’t always mean those with the highest wealth ratings) and work your way down the list. This is where the fun starts.

2. Creatively cultivate.
• Connect to passions.
• Be unique.
• Involve program staff.
• Offer behind-the-scenes experiences.
• Use board and volunteers strategically.
Hands-on, exclusive experiences are an ideal way to cultivate. They need to be unique to your organization—if you’re a performing arts group, give prospects a tour and then host lunch on stage. If you’re a zoo, let them in to feed the animals and interact with them up close. If you’re a historic house, bring prospects into restricted areas or on an archeological dig. If you’re a museum, give them a sneak preview of a new piece of artwork.

In each of these instances, it’s critical to use your program staff—they have the inside stories and can give the most detailed, latest information about what’s happening in your organization. But that means you must ensure the staff are trained and scripted so they know what to cover with the donor—connecting to that donor’s particular interests.

3. Make the (right) ask.

• Target best prospects first.
• Explain role of philanthropy vs. membership.
• Tap emotional connection.
If you’ve cultivated the prospect properly over multiple visits, you’ve learned their interests and figured out what they’re likely to fund as a donor. Follow The Curtis Group’s ask-making guidelines, including the five rights—right solicitor, right prospect, right amount, right reason, right time—and always be specific in your ask. And remember, these asks should happen in-person, never over the phone or via letter/email.

4. Don’t forget follow-up and stewardship!

Remember, donors want to:
• Be updated on last gift before being asked again.
• Feel appreciated.
• Have a meaningful relationship with organization.
• Know what you intend to do with their gift.
• Know their gift makes a difference.


Arts organizations often get the idea that other sectors have it easier when it comes to raising dollars. Just remember, you have the real advantage—a natural pool of prospects who like what you do. You have a wonderful opportunity to educate them and guide them into becoming donors. The key is to tap into and deepen the passion these prospects have already demonstrated for your cause.

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