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Growing Your Contact Network

Growing Your Contact Network

In fundraising, we know “people give to people” and that developing strong contact networks is key to building future income. Apart from the standard routes for acquiring new donors, how else can charities develop their networks and especially their higher level contacts? There are several options, including:

Establishing a Development Board

A development board is usually a sub-group of your main trustee body, but which brings in outsiders from business, grant making and personal wealth in order to broaden the contact base. Sometimes such a board is set up in support of a capital appeal, but some charities have been able to use them to grow revenue funding too. The main considerations will be to establish clear terms of reference (to make clear what the board is for, what its remit is and how it will operate) as well as to find an effective chairperson. Whoever leads the board must have authority, energy and time to devote to it. Such people are hard to come by but it is worth spending time finding the right leader, rather than just going with the first available candidate. Once established, the work of the board should be as light touch as possible (i.e. keep meetings to a minimum). It can also have a fluid make-up, whereby people join for a period and then leave, to be replaced by others once they have done their job. Setting clear goals for the board is vital, as is supporting it effectively in its work. The fundraising team will need to service it properly if it is to achieve its goals. If run well, a development board can make a valuable contribution to fundraised income and to widening the contact base.

Use of Patrons

The use of patrons has a mixed history in our sector, with some charities making very good use of them, while others struggle to find them helpful. Having a patron on the letter head may have some limited use, but clearly an active patron is far more valuable. The key thing here comes down to setting expectations and making clear and direct requests for help, whether that is to attend an event, to sign letters or make phone calls in support of the charity. Let’s be clear, some patrons are mainly interested in the kudos and not in making a difference for the charity. If you have such patrons at the moment, give them some concrete options for supporting your activities (it’s amazing how often charities complain their patrons don’t do anything, yet have never asked them!). If they are activated by this, great. If not, it is best to part company and find someone better. A recent piece of work we did for a local charity identified a list of 22 potential patrons associated with its location, including some very interesting people. So do your research and draw up a list of potential patrons. Then see if there are ways of approaching them personally. If not, get your chairperson to write to them directly and see if you can begin a conversation. You only need one or two effective patrons to make a difference, so you are looking for quality and commitment over quantity. Beware of the more vacuous “celebrities” who are already patrons to several charities – they are unlikely to be of much use. Some charities have royal patrons, who can be very useful (although of course it depends on which royal we are talking about and of course not all of the public are royalists). Ideally, you are looking for patrons that have a clear affinity with your cause and are prepared to work for you. As with the development board, it is worth taking some time to find the right ones, rather than going with the first offer.

Engagement Events

Using events can also be a good way to develop new relationships with people of influence or affluence. If you are planning a special event (perhaps to launch a new service or to celebrate an anniversary), this can also be a good excuse to engage with new contacts, again covering business, grant making and personal wealth. Here, you will need to carry out or commission some research to identify a long list of prospects (most will not attend). It will help your chances of pulling new people in if they are invited by a big name and if you have an interesting or unusual venue for your event. Of course, it is also a good idea to invite warm, existing contacts to such events, as their enthusiasm for your cause will be infectious.

Contact mapping

Allied to recruiting new high level supporters is the practice of making best use of existing networks. If you are hoping to secure support from a new donor, of whatever type, it helps if you can identify a personal link to them first. So make sure you are checking whether you have any such links via regular contact mapping. Classically, this could involve drawing on your trustees’ networks, but you should also think more widely to include those of senior staff and your best donors. If you have set up a development board as above, this is also an important function for it to support. The development board should be asked to review list of prospects regularly to see which they may know and to plan personal approaches, especially where significant gifts are being sought.

If you need to discuss any of these idea, do call Simon George for a free chat on 01785 663600 or email

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