Maximizing Your Donor Relationships

by Joe Garecht

Love Your Donors

Have you, and your non-profit team, thought about how well you are maximizing your donor relationships?  I’ll bet the answer is “no.”  And that’s ok – you’ve got a lot on your plate.  But today, I want to suggest setting some time aside to think it through.

Here’s how I think about it: donor acquisition is hard.  It takes time, energy, and often money to find and engage new donors.  Because finding new donors is so time intensive, I have found that it is doubly important to leverage the relationships we create by maximizing the value of each of your non-profit’s donor connections.

Notice What I Said…

Before we look at some ways you can better maximize your donor relationships, I want to point out those words… “maximizing your donor relationships.”  Notice what I didn’t say.

I didn’t say, “Maximizing your donor revenue.”  The connection you build with your donors has to go beyond just money.  It has to be a true relationship.  The money will follow.

I didn’t say, “Getting the most out of each donor.”  Your job isn’t to wring as much cash as you can out of your donors.  Your job is to build a strong and sustainable non-profit that can help as many people as possible.  The way to do that is to build lifetime donor relationships with two-way communication.  The money will follow.

So, how can you and your non-profit maximize your donor relationships?

Interact with Your Donors Individually – But Create a System for Doing So

First and foremost, you need to treat your donors like the individuals they are.  This means interacting with them as individuals, whenever possible.

Think about it – why do you think direct mail is less effective than face-to-face asks in terms of % making a gift?  One of the primary reasons is because it’s easy to throw a letter in the trash when you know that you are getting it simply because you are on a mailing list along with thousands of others, while the face-to-face meeting shows that the organization knows you and wants to build a personal relationship with you.

Not every interaction with your donors can be an individual, personal basis.  But every donor can receive at least some personal attention, even if you are a one- (or no-) person development shop.  How?  By systematizing your individual donor relations.

Things like thank-a-thons once per year, small group meetings with mid-level donors, and handwritten thank you notes can systematically personalize a relationship that would otherwise seem cold and distant.

Involve the Donor in Organizational Life

Another great way to maximize your donor relationships and build warmth (and giving) is by involving your donors in the life of your organization.  While this won’t be possible for every organization, it can be relationship-changing for non-profits that can do it.

You can involve your donors in your organizational life by offering volunteer opportunities, advisory councils, tours of your office or facility, or simply by including pictures of your staff and your work in your annual reports and update e-mails.

Seek Advice From Your Donors

Nothing builds relationships faster than asking your donors for advice that is unrelated to fundraising.  When donors are asked for advice and counsel, it proves that you see them as real people with real value to your organization outside of what they are able to donate.

You can ask for advice either through personal means (such as picking up the phone and asking directly) or through mass communication (such as sending out a survey to your donors).  Either way, you can pick and choose what (if any) of the advice you decide to use in your work.

Do you have a donor who runs a marketing agency?  Have you ever asked her for thoughts on your marketing materials?  Do you have a donor who is a management consultant?  Have you ever asked him for his thoughts on how to streamline your operations?  When was the last time you sent out a donor survey and asked about things other than fundraising?

Speak in Terms of a Lifetime Relationship

Finally, if you truly want to maximize your donor relationships, you should speak with your donors in terms of long-term (hopefully lifetime) relationship.  This means that you should see them (and speak to them) as someone who will be with you for the long-haul, not just a prospect for your next event or fundraising campaign.

This means you should be casting big and bold visions for your donors, inviting them to join donor clubs and giving societies, and using language that reflects their ongoing value to your organization.

Photo Credit: Matt Harris

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