by Dan Schipp
How often have you heard someone say, “Building good relationships with donors is the key to success in fundraising”? It’s a simple concept; it’s not rocket science. Yet, many organizations are not able to sustain a relationship-building approach to development.
What keeps nonprofits from building a relationship-focused development program? Often it’s because they just don’t want to invest the time – and it does take time – to cultivate relationships with donors. Sometimes frequent staff turnover thwarts donor engagement. On occasion, it’s just a matter of impatience; we need results NOW!
Building a long-term, mutually beneficial relationship with a donor involves the same qualities as those needed to forge a strong friendship – trust, authenticity, and integrity. What are other key elements? I suggest the following:
- Spending time together -- Phone calls, emails, texts, notes and letters, as important as they are, can take a relationship only so far. To grow a donor’s understanding and passion for your organization – and for you to understand her concerns and motivations, you have to engage, really engage, with her . . . and that means you have to get out of your office and spend time in genuine conversation with her.
- Finding common ground – Attentive listening and observation will help you discover shared personal interests – a good base for future conversations -- but also connect the dots between the donor’s aspirations and the organization’s plans for its future.
- Going beyond the expected – Organizations that excel in donor relationships think and act “out of the box” when it comes to attending to and acknowledging their donors. They go the extra mile past the conventional – birthday cards, holiday greetings, etc. -- and surprise their donors with kind gestures like a card on the anniversary of a loved one’s death or a cheery note in the midst of a long, dark winter.
- Following through on commitments – Nothing can sour a friendship or a donor relationship more quickly than being unreliable. A donor has to have confidence in your (personal and organizational) willingness and ability to carry through on what you say you are going to do. Good stewardship is how an organization honors that trust.
Building strong donor relationships will lead to success in major gift development. It’s not a daunting or onerous task. But it does take time, patience, persistence, honesty and creativity. Are you and your organization willing to make that investment in your donors and prospective donors?