How to generate referrals for major gifts

A well-placed referral can be the bridge to new partnerships, financial support, and resources. It can elevate your nonprofit from merely surviving to thriving. But the journey toward harnessing this potential isn’t solely about asking for referrals.

What’s getting in the way?

Do you have a process for generating referrals?

If so, please share your wisdom so others can benefit.

After all, referrals are like precious gems buried beneath the surface—often close at hand (many times among your volunteers), yet they are sometimes difficult to unearth. In our quest to inspire past major donors and board members to refer us to their friends and colleagues, we must first address the following five significant obstacles that stand in our way.

What do you think of these ideas?

1. Lack of Enthusiasm or Motivation

If past contributors—both financial and in terms of time and effort—haven’t been met with an outstanding return of value, they may hesitate to recommend your nonprofit to others.

2. No Understanding of Their Friends’ Motivations

People become involved in causes that align with their life story, values, and community. Without those motivational drivers, they may instinctively be reluctant to make referrals. You might try encouraging your major donors and board members to ask questions of their friends to determine if they share a connection with your mission.

3. Concerns about Referral Treatment

Board members and donors may worry about how their referrals will be treated. Fear of aggressive fundraising tactics or jeopardizing friendships can deter them from making referrals, especially if they’ve had a bad experience before. To remove that friction, outline your process and approach for handling referrals. Explain how you help people find meaning through giving and your non-pressure approach. Reassure them that their friends’ level of involvement will be determined by their interests and timing. Seek their feedback on the process to build trust.

4. Quid Pro Quo Fears

The fear of feeling obligated to reciprocate referrals can be a significant concern. Folks might wonder if introducing friends to your nonprofit will lead to requests from them to accept introductions to other causes their friends care about. Clarify that you only seek introductions to individuals who are certain to share the same passion for your mission, based on intersecting life stories and values. Stress that referrals should only occur when they believe in a genuine alignment between their friends and your cause. That way the request will feel more natural and organic for both the referral source and their friend.

5. Lack of Know-how

Last, uncertainty about how to reach out to friends effectively can hinder referral efforts. Most do not know what to say or how to initiate conversations, making them hesitant to refer. Provide a drafted, personalized introduction message.


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19 days ago

If space allows, we try to make clear that our legacy members can bring a friend if they would otherwise be attending an event solo (it started from a humble place of making my donors feel comfortable). I usually know the legacy donors who do so, and they seem to be carefully choosing folks with the same interests – several have included us in their plans, too, or at least made an outright treasure gift after the event!

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