Major Donor Development Program

Question: The nonprofit I’m involved with gets most of its funding from grants, but you always hear about nonprofits needing to diversify their funding sources in order to become more sustainable.  In particular, it seems fundraising experts recommend starting a major donor program.  We would like to do this, but where do we start?

Answer:  Well, whatever experts you’ve been taking advice from are absolutely right! It’s important to get donations from a bunch of different sources, especially because grant money dries up all the time: a foundation might change their strategic direction in a single grant cycle and a source of income you’ve been depending on for years can dry up just like that!

Of course this is true for any funding source, but healthy major donor programs spread the financial load over many different people—people who believe in your cause and want to invest in it because they want to be a part of the solution to an issue close to their hearts.  

So, how do you convince people to start donating the big bucks to your organization? Well, there are many, many ways of doing this (you can find browse the various strategies on our website here:, but Georgia River Network just recently tried a new strategy that worked well , both because it encouraged a donor to give more than they might have normally and because it successfully  recruited lots of brand new donors.

Last February, an anonymous couple pledged $10,000 if we could raise an additional $10,000 in cash from new major donors ($1,000+) before the end of our fiscal year (September 30). We shared this exciting opportunity with phone calls and letters to people we already knew who we thought might be able or willing to give $1,000 or more.  We also just sent it out into the ether through print and electronic newsletters, social media, and a prominent place on our main web page.

The challenge match was extremely successful and raised the sights of some of our members who are most committed to protecting and restoring Georgia Rivers. In several cases, the new major donors had not given above $100. To date we’ve surpassed our goal of ten new major donors and are looking forward a similar challenge next year.  

So, this is just one way of recruiting a bunch of new major donors at once: one generous person can be really motivating to other potential donors.  Try it yourself! It might just work!

Event Pre-Planning

Question: I’m on the board of a small watershed group, and we're in the early stages of planning our first event.  It’s not going to be anything fancy, but we want to do it right.  Any advice on things we can do on the front end of the planning process that will ensure the event goes smoothly?

Answer:  Well, every event takes a little work, but there are a few steps you can take during the planning process to save some headaches later on.

For starters, send out a Save the Date a couple months before the event.  People’s calendars fill up fast, and letting them know about your event early will increase the chances they’ll come. You could mail a postcard or send out an email blast, but make sure it contains the following information:

  • The type of event you’re putting on, the date and location

  • Any prizes, food, entertainment, important people or speakers…just the highlights.

  • A call to action: make sure you tell them what to do with this information: put it on their calendars, register when registration opens, etc.

  • You can even include a short personal note letting people know about your organization and why they should come.

Secondly, have people register for the event.  It might seem obvious, but it’s amazing how a small detail like forgetting to include RSVP information on the invitation can cause trouble down the line.  You don’t want to be caught on the day of the event with food for one hundred when only six people show up; or the opposite—your event is really popular but you don’t have the food or space to accommodate them.  Also, the registration process is a great opportunity to gather information about them—name and email address, at the very least.  There are lots of online registration sites that can help you register people easily at a small fee.  We recently started using here at Georgia River Network, and we’ve been happy with it so far.  To avoid fees, you can simply ask participants to email RSVP directly to someone in your organization.

Thirdly: PROMOTE, PROMOTE, PROMOTE!  You’re spending all this time and energy putting this event together, the least you can do is make sure it’s a success by letting people know about it.  So, put an ad in the paper, send it to the listserves you think would be interested, publicize it on your website, Facebook and Twitter, ask other groups to advertise it in their publications. If you feel like you’re talking about it too much, you’re probably promoting it just enough.

So, make sure to let folks know about your event, ask them to register for it, and put a LOT of energy into promoting it.  On the day of, you should be in good shape!

River Lovers

    Ben Emmanual,                                                 
    American Rivers                                               


    Buzz Williams, Chatuga Conservancy              Gordon Rogers,
    Song by: Lisa McAdams                                   Flint Riverkeeper


    Nisha Simama                                                  Video by: Joe Cook




Stories from the Tennessee Basin

Summer, 2012 - Nantahala River

"Paddle" #13 - It may not count, but I spent a couple of fun days in an inflatable "Duckie" on the Nantahala River!

Bobby Marie

River Issues

Georgia Water Coalition's 2012 Dirty Dozen Report

     WALB 10 News Report, 
     November 2012

Ogeechee River

      Public Meeting,                                                    WSAV3 News Story,
      June 2011                                                            May 2012


      ENS News Story,
      July 2012 

Altamaha River

      Deborah Sheppard, Altamaha Riverkeeper       Video by: Altamaha Riverkeeper     
      Paddle Georgia - June 2012                              Song by: Judy Sharpton


     Slideshow by: James Holland  
     ... a picture says a thousand words