Where do you go to find a foothold if you’re starting from scratch to build a support base for your non-profit?  A foothold may not be possible, so start looking for a toehold.

One passionate advocate with the right commitment can be the starting place.  If you can recruit or find one high-level person who is captured by the mission of your organization, and they are willing to recruit or at least help recruit others, you could be on your way to an advisory board, advocacy council, or better yet, a group with a name associated with your particular cause.

Couple the passionate advocate with another voice who has a trusted public forum and you have a winning combination.  The public person’s role is to spread the word broadly in their circles of influence.  Their credibility and reach is what works for you here, and they aren’t even involved in the personal recruiting.  Their influence is the credibility and trust they have among their audience.  

This person could be an athlete, writer or pastor, to name a few.  Their circle of influence becomes the recruiting pool.  Considerable information saturation needs to take place before recruiting begins. 

The passionate advocate, and probably your chief executive, conduct the recruiting process beginning with phone contact, asking for permission to send an information packet. 

In the recruiting calls, you should communicate upfront that a chief purpose of the group will be to raise funds for your cause by the member’s personal support, and through spreading the word to others.  

But the picture is bigger, too, because you need their advocacy and commitment to advance the cause to a higher level.  Members will be encouraged to use their professional expertise and put their other interests to work on the council in volunteering.  Volunteering and other forms of involvement are very important. 

Another promise you will make is to be sensitive to their time.  Only asking them for one group gathering such as an important annual dinner will help you position the event as an “insiders only” gathering because that’s what it is.  

Benefits to this group include a role in shaping the organization, along with access to the chief executive and board.

The financial commitment for membership is high because those are the people you’re looking for.  So, the people you recruit for the first year—maybe a good goal is 20—each contribute their $2500 or more per couple and you’ve already had a successful fund drive. 

One such group who were recruited to advocate for a new, and, of course, small non-profit resulted in more than 20 families coming together and contributing $163,000 in their first year, counting their membership contributions and other gifts for capital, special projects and other important needs. 

During the second year, membership renewals were above 90% and they contributed more than $120,000 without a big push to encourage them to give above their membership commitment.

The front-end time investment on your part is worth it, but it is substantial.  The group needs its own special newsletter and other unique cultivation experiences such as trips and other opportunities to rally around the cause. 

An advocacy group, done correctly, can be a breakthrough strategy especially for an organization seeking major gifts from individuals and high-caliber people who will connect them to others.

AuthorCraig Smith