Building Authentic, Meaningful Donor Relationships: Make It a Seamless, Exhilarating Adventure
A stellar fundraising program continually deepens relationships with an expanding donor base through ethical, donor-focused engagement. When it comes to nonprofits, a donor’s journey should not be difficult. However, donor retention rates show that we must improve this journey.
Another term used for deepening relationships, especially major gifts, is “moves management.” This process is named for the steps, or “moves,” taken to deepen relationships. It is essential to focus on the donor and his or her needs/interests and goals. Think long-term, lifetime value and relationships.
“Look at the characteristics of your best donors and reconstruct their journey,” said Ben Stroup, president of Velocity Strategy Solutions. He stresses the importance of knowing donors individually and an analysis of common themes.
According to Stroup, lifetime donor value has two sides:
- The value of that donor to the organization
- The value of the organization to the donor
“Lifetime value changes your perspective on retention and acquisition” he added.
Plans for deepening donor relationships should be as personalized as possible, ranging from those for individual donors to donors collectively in a segment. Conduct inventories of cultivation steps.
Within your database or segmentations, begin with your top prospective donors. Gauge their capacity and past involvement. Continually gather personal and professional information.
“The donor does not see the relationship through the lens of channels,” Stroup said. “We organize around channels. Listening platforms are essential,” he said. “We have to listen, learn and adapt. The donor wants to see where they can get the highest philanthropic value.”
The donor journey begins when a prospective donor is identified. The journey includes steps to inform, engage and involve them before making a gift request, and then recognizing and informing them on the impact they have made. Donor engagement should be a never-ending cycle.
“It is important to have a strong point of entry, so you can reach out effectively,” said Amanda Kennedy, chief advancement officer at St. Andrew’s School in Richmond, Virginia. “Our best acquisition has begun with a personal touch from a board member, parent, volunteer or staff.”
“Tailor your communications to the individual,” Kennedy said. “Think about every donor at every level. Reach out in authentic and meaningful ways seven times a year. Be as personal and as high touch as possible to each segment.”
Deepening donor relationships “is an ongoing lifetime commitment,” said Jerry Linzy, executive partner emeritus of Jerold Panas, Linzy & Partners. Linzy stresses the importance of “remembering the little things — not just sending an email, but a personal note.”
You keep in touch with someone in a sincere way, and you get to know them, their family, what is significant to them,” Linzy said. “It is about building an ongoing relationship with the donor and not getting away from that.”
The high staff turnover in fundraising is a challenge with deepening donor relationships, especially with major gift donors. “The big downside is when people change jobs. You lose a staff connection, and a new person has to start over,” Linzy said. This reinforces the importance of having a system in place and more than one person involved with a relationship.
Personalization is one way to achieve the ultimate relationship goal: making each donor feel special.
“No one wants to be treated like someone who doesn’t have value,” said Pamela Barden, president of PJ Barden. “Organizations should make the donor feel special.”
“Make sure you are talking to the donor and not talking about the organization,” Barden said. “Keep the focus on the donor. Donors know you need money — they need to know you know them.”
It is essential to do more than continually ask for money.
“We need to continually thank them, explain what we are doing, call them on their birthday or send them an anniversary card,” Barden said. “Program the system to send an anniversary note on their first gift or when they reach a milestone in their giving.”
Video can be an effective resource for all fundraising. In a time when people are searching for connectivity, Adam Wilbur, co-founder of CauseVid suggests utilizing video emails. “It is like a voicemail with your face on it,” Wilbur said.
Relationship-building is at the core of successful fundraising. It is especially important in times like these when people need to feel connections, and donors want to feel they are needed, are appreciated and can make a difference. Create a donor journey that is exhilarating for your donors!
Looking for Jeff? You'll find him either on the lake, laughing with good friends, or helping nonprofits develop to their full potential.
Jeff believes that successful fundraising is built on a bedrock of relevant, consistent messaging; sound practices; the nurturing of relationships; and impeccable stewardship. And that organizations that adhere to those standards serve as beacons to others that aspire to them. The Bedrocks & Beacons blog will provide strategic information to help nonprofits be both.
Jeff has more than 25 years of nonprofit leadership experience and is a member of the NonProfit PRO Editorial Advisory Board.