Building Institutional Relationships in Fundraising
As I transition into a new position, I reflect on the many relationships I have developed over the years and how those relationships have played a role throughout my nonprofit journey. Making the leap from corporate sales and marketing where I developed relationships that were important and critical to my success, I realize now that the real purpose of those relationships was to make the sell, build brand loyalty and foster customer affinity.
The relationships were sustainable, long-term and institutionally-focused. That was key to establishing repeat customers and building customer loyalty. My role was to foster those relationships on behalf of the organization, which means whether I am in that position or not, the business continues, relationships continue and customer loyalty to the brand became paramount.
I call this approach “building institutional relationships.” In fundraising, relationship managers tend to forget that the relationships that are being developed are for the greater good of the organization—to fulfill its mission. Fundraisers are often quoted as saying, “that’s my relationship,” and tend to hold tightly onto relationships. In doing so, they forget to shepherd the mission of the organization as the primary
reason donors give.
Now, it is understood that donors respond to those that have the strongest relationships, and they give to those who they are most comfortable with and to whom they like. However, when a donor is tied to the mission as the primary reason why they give, the benefits to the
nonprofit are paramount and continuous.
Fundraising should be built on relationships while working toward building committed donors—donors who are tied to the mission of the organization and not the individuals. When a relationship is based on the mission, it shifts the focus on developing partners rather than on money, and it typically brings in more money and creates more reliably and sustainability.
When we make ourselves the focal point as a fundraiser, it becomes more transactional, relying on that individual to facilitate the transaction. It brings in the money, and that is it. It’s fundraising in its purest sense. The money that is given is mainly because of the action—rather than the cause or the organization. This type of fundraising model is very hard to maintain. More than half the people who make a charitable gift in this way are not “encouraged” year after year to give—or they never give a second gift.
A strong organization knows that success in raising money relies in large on
cementing the mission of your organization in the hearts and minds of the donor. Organizations that grow and thrive understand that more effort needs to be spent on building strong relationships than on transactions. Why relationships? Or the real question is, why institutional relationships? The answer is clear: People leave, individuals make mistakes, people fall out of like with people.
Whatever the reason, a strong fundraiser should focus their time building relationships that promotes the value of the mission and the importance of the organization to serve the community, allowing donors the opportunity to learn as much about how their gifts benefit the greater good and understanding that, whether you are there to shepherd their gift or not, their support is important to the organization.
The time you put into building a relationship on behalf of an organization should continue even if you are no longer with the organization. As a fundraiser, it is your commitment to create committed donors who are tied directly to the organization.
Committed donors support the organization on an ongoing basis and will ensure that the organization always has the financial wherewithal to accomplish their mission, to prosper and to benefit the community.
When you establish these committed donors through institutional relationship-building, you are opening the conversation for transformational gifts, which gets the organization to the next step—and then they stay committed and help continue the important work of the nonprofit.
Take ownership as a fundraiser to foster and build strong, solid donor relationships, but understand your work is for the greater good of the organization.
Tarsha Whitaker Calloway serves as vice president of philanthropy for Tessitura Network. For almost two decades, Tarsha has helped nonprofits develop fundraising, board governance and fundraising strategies to further their mission. Tarsha has directly led efforts to raise more than $50 million for the nonprofit organizations, including the Woodruff Arts Center, Emory University and the American Cancer Society. She frequently presents locally, regionally and nationally on fundraising; organizational and board development; and diversity and philanthropy.
Outside of work, Tarsha has a monthly column in NonProfit PRO magazine and is actively involved in her community, including board of trustees for Destination Imagination, board of directors' executive committee for Leadership DeKalb, board of directors for National HBCU Hall of Fame and former board chair for Atlanta Shakespeare Theater. Tarsha holds a master's of business administration in international business from Mercer University Stetson School of Business and a Bachelor of Arts degree in journalism and theater from Texas Southern University. She also holds certificate in current affairs fundraising from the Lilly Family School of Philanthropy at Indiana University and a certificate in diversity, equity and inclusion in the workplace from South Florida University.
Tarsha resides in Atlanta with her husband and son.