How to Build a System that Attracts New Nonprofit Donors

In the world of nonprofit fundraising, sticking to the old ways can feel like being on a rollercoaster that only goes up and down. You land a big donation and everything seems great for a moment. But as the money starts to run out, that all-too-familiar worry creeps back in. 

It’s a cycle of feast and famine that doesn’t just wear you out; it also leaves you financially vulnerable. Losing just one could throw everything off track.

I talk about attracting new donors for your nonprofit in this podcast episode:

Listen: How to Attract New Funders & Donors To Fuel Your Growth

Traditional Nonprofit Fundraising Has 2 Core Problems

The first problem is the chase. 

The common way of thinking of raising money from individuals centers around searching for and finding new donors. In this traditional approach,  if you stop chasing, the money stops coming in. In addition, you can find yourself constantly wooing the same small circle of supporters. 

It’s like being at a party where you only talk to people you know, missing out on the chance to meet someone new who might also share your passion. This approach not only burns a lot of energy, it also keeps you running in circles, chasing after the same funding sources without ever growing your support network. 

The second problem is that most of our fundraising is attachment-based rather than affinity-based. 

It means that we begin our fundraising efforts by asking “who do we know, who do they know, and how can we meet them?” We look to our board members to constantly introduce us to new people, and we are constantly needing to find more new people in order to expand our donor base. 

Sticking to these old-school methods isn’t just tiring; it’s a missed opportunity to broaden our horizons and bring more people into the fold.


Embracing a New Reality: The Watering Hole Method(™) as a Solution

What if we thought of fundraising as the opposite of chasing? 

What if people came up to us at events and asked to learn more about our work?  What if we got phone calls from new funders saying they’ve heard about us and inviting us to apply, or emails from people in our network connecting us to people they know who want to know how they can support our work?

Enter the “watering hole” strategy, a fresh perspective on fundraising that aligns more with natural attraction than relentless pursuit. 

This strategy isn’t just about doing things differently; it’s about seeing our efforts through a new lens, where potential donors are not targets to be chased but allies waiting to be discovered and engaged in their natural habitats.

The Essence of the Watering Hole Method

At its core, the watering hole strategy is about identifying where your potential donors naturally gather and making your presence felt in those spaces. It’s a shift from seeking out donors one by one to positioning yourself in places where your audience already exists en masse.


In nature, watering holes are fascinating – they bring together all types of species that all share something in common – the need for water. Instinctively, hundreds of different animals can end up being in a single spot to get the one thing they all need. 

Metaphorical watering holes exist in our own lives too. Just like animals gathering around a watering hole, we all share a need to feel connected to like-minded people and be informed of our world.  

Watering holes are the places that meet that need – the conferences, newspapers, blogs, podcasts, social media platforms, and physical spaces where people go to get their information and to feel connected to others. 

The power of this approach is that it leverages the power of attraction, drawing in those who already have an affinity for your cause without the need for a hard sell. It’s about being in the right place at the right time, with the right message.

There are four parts to the Watering Hole Method(™): Stages, Pages, Social Media, and Partnerships.

I will walk through each of these four parts, detailing how you can apply them in your own organization. 

Stages: Amplifying Your Mission

“Stages” in the watering hole strategy refer to platforms where your voice can be amplified to reach a broader audience. This includes things like speaking at conferences, participating in webinars, and appearing on podcasts.

These are opportunities to broadcast your mission, share your insights, and directly engage with a captive audience that shares your interests.

Imagine the impact of delivering a keynote at a conference full of individuals passionate about your cause or contributing valuable insights on a podcast that resonates with your ideal donors. These literal and metaphorical stages allow you to not just share your message but to do so in a way that adds value, educates, and inspires. It’s about crafting narratives that captivate and compel, turning listeners into potential allies.

Pages: Showcasing Your Work Where It Matters

“Pages” leverage the power of the written word to convey your mission and the transformative work you’re doing to a broad audience. This can be through vehicles like op-eds in newspapers, articles in magazines, or posts on influential blogs.

The goal is to showcase your successes, the challenges you’re tackling, and the impact of your work in spaces where your potential donors are already seeking information and inspiration.

Writing an op-ed for a widely read publication or sharing your success stories on a popular blog can significantly elevate your organization’s visibility. It’s about leveraging these platforms to tell your story in a way that resonates, enlightens, and engages the reader, inviting them to see themselves as part of your mission.

Social Platforms: Engaging with Your Community

Social media platforms offer a dynamic and interactive way to connect with your audience. It’s important, however, to choose the platforms where your ideal donors spend their time, and to use these spaces to shine a light on your mission and vision for change, rather than just as a tool for solicitation.

The goal is for people who have a natural affinity for your mission and work to recognize their points of alignment with your content and to “raise their hand” for more information.

Creating content that educates, entertains, and informs, whether through YouTube videos, Instagram, or LinkedIn posts, can help cultivate a community of supporters who are paying attention and ready to learn more about how they can contribute. 

It’s about showing the human side of your work, the real impact on lives, and inviting followers to be part of something meaningful.

Institutional Partnerships: Expanding Your Reach

Collaborating with other organizations and institutions can significantly amplify your reach and introduce your mission to a wider audience. These partnerships, whether with corporations, local businesses, or other nonprofits, can lead to joint events, co-authored publications, or shared campaigns that highlight mutual goals and shared values.

Imagine co-hosting a webinar with a partner organization that brings together experts in your field, drawing in audiences from both your networks. Such collaborations not only broaden your reach but also reinforce the credibility and significance of your work, making your mission more attractive to potential donors.

Recap: The Power of Attraction as a Nonprofit Fundraising Strategy

The watering hole strategy isn’t just a fundraising tactic; it’s a transformative approach that redefines how we engage with potential donors. 

By focusing on attracting rather than chasing donors, we open up a world of possibilities where fundraising becomes more about connection and less about solicitation. This strategy encourages us to be strategic in where we show up, how we share our stories, and the ways we engage with our communities.

The most effective and sustainable fundraising efforts are those driven by affinity.


When we clearly understand who our right people are, we can focus our energies on being present in the spaces they frequent. By employing the watering hole strategy, we transition from tirelessly seeking out donors to creating an environment where they naturally gravitate towards us.

By embracing the watering hole method, we allow ourselves – and our board members – to shift from seeing fundraising as a burdensome task to recognizing it as an opportunity to connect and engage with like-minded individuals and institutions. This method fosters a sense of community and shared purpose, where donors feel drawn to contribute because they see the tangible impact of their support.

Embracing the Shift: A Call to Action

The first step in deploying The Watering Hole Method (™) is a willingness to reevaluate and adapt your current fundraising practices. It requires you to step out of your comfort zone, to innovate, and to get into the habit of going to where your potential donors are – placing yourself in their shoes and centering their interests and experiences. 

This shift is also philosophical, pushing organizations to embrace the idea that our missions can and should attract support naturally.

For nonprofit leaders and fundraisers, this means being more intentional about where you direct your efforts. It involves taking time to identify the stages, pages, social platforms, and potential institutional partnerships that align with your mission, and to offer the best opportunities for engagement. 

Ultimately, it’s about dedicating ourselves to creating content and experiences that resonate, that educate, and that inspire the right donors to take action.