Searching for Support

February 9, 2016



Written By: DBD Team

By the Donor By Design Team

Creating an endowment program – an ongoing conversation about ensuring your mission’s relevance and sustainability for generational impact – is a critical endeavor for all nonprofit organizations, schools and churches. Income from endowment funds can make the difference in challenging economic conditions and can also allow your organization to grow to serve new needs.

An endowment fund is both a safety net and a dream booster. More than a strategic plan or long history or deep community roots, a strong endowment program shows your commitment to continued service in your community.

If growing your endowment fund is one of your priorities for 2016, one of the first questions you’ll ask is “who are my prospects?” It can be hard to even know where to begin, but there is one tried and true technique to get you started: a search letter.

A search letter is a simple strategy that can be adjusted to fit any budget or situation. Think of it less as “casting a net” for prospects and more as “scattering seeds,” planting your story in the minds of a variety of donors who may be ready to act at different times.


What should the letter say?

  • Introduce your endowment fund. If the fund is new, talk briefly about the board’s decision to establish the fund. If the fund already exists, talk about how the fund was started and what it is used for today.
  • Present a vision for the future. What will a stronger endowment fund enable your organization to do? Who will be helped by the income from this fund?
  • It should include an invitation to learn more AND an invitation to give. If your organization has a legacy society, this can also be an invitation to join. For example:
    As we move forward on this critical legacy effort for our school, we would love your support. Consider making your own gift to the Endowment Fund, becoming a member of the Century Circle. If you have questions about planned giving, we’ve set up an informational series to help you learn more about what options can benefit you today and leave a lasting benefit to our school.
  • The letter should come from a staff or volunteer leader (or both).
  • The letter should be no longer than a page, and, if you have one, include a brochure about your endowment fund with it.


Who should it go to?

Look at your past donor, membership, alumni and/or congregational list, sorting it by:

  • Donor age
  • Consistency of annual giving
  • Consistency of participation

Those people who rise to the top of each of those lists are your most likely endowment prospects. Depending on the size of your list, you can narrow it down or broaden it out to meet your desired mailing budget. A typical scenario might be donors who’ve given 3+ times over the past 10 years, who are over 55 years old, and who are currently a member/congregant.


It is not unusual to hear stories of a search letter that yields immediate, generous gifts. Even more important: the search letter starts the conversation. It allows your organization’s closest supporters to self-identify and invites them into a dialogue about generational impact. It’s an invitation to the reader to search their own heart and consider what sort of legacy they want to leave for their family and their community.

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