The GuideStar Blog retired September 9, 2019. We invite you to visit its replacement, the Candid Blog. You’re also welcome to browse or search the GuideStar Blog archives. Onward!

GuideStar Blog

Tapping into Social Networks, or, Creating a Funding Treasure Map

If nonprofits truly believe in their missions, they should be thinking about how to be self-sustaining in their funding. Many of the dedicated, smart people who really care about the missions of their favorite nonprofit organizations eventually ask the same questions: "How much money would it take to endow the operational funding gap here? How much would it really cost to achieve financial sustainability for this organization?"

This clear focus ultimately will take the suffering out of funding operational needs and allow the organization to focus on its mission—be it curing disease, cleaning up the environment, or improving the life of one person.

One way to start tapping into self-sustaining funding is to start exploring your organization's current network to see who might have interest in learning more about your nonprofit. Take the time to analyze the natural supporters lurking right under your nose. This is more than brainstorming; this is finding your edge with existing resources.

To find your edge, start looking at your "Treasure Map." In the business world, you might call it a "network analysis." It's actually a very powerful tool for uncovering all the buried treasure your organization is sitting on. You don't have to go out of your way to find these people. You don't have to make your selections based on wealth or social status. Include everyone. The goal is to start building relationships, not strong-arming people to give to you right away.

Here are eight easy steps for tapping into your social network:

  1. Get a team of people. The more diverse your team members, the more diverse the Treasure Map. At some point, you will want to do this exercise with your board as well. If you are the person who will be leading the group through the process, be sure to practice it first with a small group of staff members, family, or friends.

  2. Get out a large piece of paper and colored markers. Lead your team through the process by first drawing a circle in the center of the page. Put the name of your organization in the circle.

  3. Then surround the circle, like the spokes on a wheel, with all the other groups you come in contact with on a regular basis. Start with groups such as your board, staff, volunteers, donors and funders, vendors, and other groups in the community that you interact with regularly. You may be able to subdivide groups like your board or staff further into former board, former board presidents, founding board members, etc.

  4. Now, with a differently colored pen or marker, list the resources each of these groups has in abundance. Why? Because people naturally want to give what they have plenty of. For example, your board in general might have an abundance of passion, commitment, expertise, contacts, and money. Yet your former board presidents may have additional resources, such as long-term commitment to your organization or certain connections in the community.

  5. Next, go back over each group and ask what their self-interest would be in coming to an informational event to learn about your organization. The best way to engage these potential supporters is to introduce them to your work at an inspiring educational session that focuses solely on your mission, not on fundraising—an event known as a Point of Entry. What would be the value or benefit for them in attending?

  6. Now, add in some fantasy categories. Who is not yet on your map that you would love to have associated with your organization? Whose involvement would leverage a whole world of support and credibility?

  7. Finally, draw connecting lines between groups on your Treasure Map who already talk to each other. You will see instantly how fast news travels. If a handful of people come to your sizzling introductory Point of Entry Event, who else will they tell?

    If your board and vendors talk only occasionally, you might draw a dotted line. For those groups who don't talk to each other at all, draw no connecting lines. Be sure to include your fantasy groups. Who on your organization's Treasure Map might already be talking with them?

  8. Now, stand back from your Treasure Map and notice which groups have the most lines connecting them to other groups. These groups are key to leveraging others.

The bottom line is that discovering your network doesn't take a lot of financial resources; it's all about using existing resources.

Terry Axelrod, Raising More Money
© 2005, Raising More Money

Terry Axelrod is the founder and CEO of Raising More Money, which trains and coaches nonprofit organizations in implementing a mission-based system for raising sustainable funding from individual donors. This system ends the suffering about fundraising and builds passionate and committed lifelong donors. For more information, go to
Topics: Communications