It’s Worth It. Really.
In a fit of malaise years ago, I signed up for an online dating service. After filling out what I swear was a 1,000-point questionnaire, I ponied up some bucks, submitted my application and waited. And waited. And did I mention … waited? Only to eventually be told the service was very sorry to inform me that it simply could not find an appropriate match for me at the time. (Cue blank stare, crickets chirping in the night and tumbleweeds rolling by.)
My friends insisted it was because I'm so "special." What the heck … I went with that and considered my lost sign-up fee a contribution to help keep the service going so it could find matches for all those other applicants who weren't quite as special as I was.
Relationships are hard. Finding them is hard. Keeping them is hard. But when the fit is right, you know it and it's worth it. You make a conscious effort to do things that nurture the relationship. You validate your partner; lift him (or her) up; and give him what he needs to feel safe, appreciated and respected. And part of the art of relationships is also happily expecting and accepting the same in return. Without that give-and-take, things can go south pretty quickly — and usually do.
Beyond the fact that multichannel integration is, was and always will be The Next Big Thing in fundraising, the talk at last month's Bridge to Integrated Marketing and Fundraising Conference was all about donor engagement — the making of personal, finely cultivated relationships that are as satisfying for donors as they are for the organizations they support. Gone are the days when nonprofits could just shine the spotlight on themselves and hold out their hands. That lazy, ineffectual approach of talking at donors is so over that we need a new word for how over it is. The word "donor" itself even seems one-dimensional these days because it simply doesn't speak to the depth of the relationships supporters are looking to build with their organizations of choice.
Speakers offered tons of tips on how to build better donor relationships. But underlying them all was the notion that relationships with donors are very much like those with friends, family members and spouses, etc. Neglect, arrogance, abuse and other negatives are just as damaging; respect, nurturing and communication are just as beneficial. As in the best interpersonal relationships, it pays to be honest, to be genuine, to be vulnerable, to be the best "you" you can possibly be and go from there.
And as with all relationships, it's not always easy. It takes time, it's a little scary — and it's inarguably worth it. But hey, if you aren't willing to go that route and prefer instead to busy yourself with raking in one-off gifts from folks who might or might not give again and who don't feel intimately connected to your organization and your cause (you know, the one-night stands of fundraising), don't sweat it. Really. There's another organization out there with a similar mission whose fundraising staff has a deeper dedication to engagement. They'll be more than happy to give your donors what they need and deserve. And won't that be special?