6 Ways to Be a True Partner to Your Donor This Year
As a true partner to your donor, you are the bridge between your donor’s heart and your mission. In that partnership, your donor feels seen, heard and respected. There is trust. And your donor feels connected to the impact they are making. This fosters your donor’s long-term engagement and investment that is meaningful to them and impacts your mission.
OK, that all sounds great, but the challenge is how do you actually create that trust and partnership. Sadly, for many of your donors, they have never had this experience with a fundraiser, and it’s new to them. So, let’s discuss what needs to be in place to grow the relationship and how to handle various situations that may come up.
1. Limit Your Caseload to Only Qualified Donors
It sounds simple, but your donor has to be interested in a partnership if you’re going to be able to create one! Major gift officers spend so much of their time chasing after donors who don’t actually want to connect.
So, first and foremost, make sure you are working with a qualified caseload of donors, meaning those who are interested in a two-way relationship with your organization. I use a seven-step qualification process that ensures you have given donors who meet the major gift metric enough time to raise their hands to show they’re interested in connection.
2. Set Clear Expectations on Roles
If a donor knows what to expect and feels included in the process, that builds trust. Here’s what this could sound like on a first call:
My goal is to create a partnership where you feel honored and connected to the incredible work you are making possible in a way that is interesting and meaningful.
To do that, I will be playing two roles. One is to be a partner who is serving as a bridge between your heart and passion to make a difference in our world and our mission. To do that well, it’s helpful for me to get feedback from you on what is working and what isn’t. And my other role is to be a facilitator, checking in with you along the way and keeping meetings moving so that we can reach our objectives. Does that work for you?
3. Set Clear Expectations for Each Meeting
Can you imagine experiencing a steady diet of fundraisers meeting with you for a nice, friendly visit, but they lack any clear objective or purpose? How irritating and boring! Here is how you might approach asking for a meeting to signal to donors that this is not going to be their usual experience:
I can imagine you have had some meetings with fundraisers that feel like a total waste of time. My goal is that you never feel like that again! For any conversation or meeting, I will always have a clear objective, which I will express upfront and ask if that works for you. I’m also never going to surprise you with an ask for a gift. I will always check in ahead of time and ask if you are ready to have that conversation.
Would you be open to a conversation next week for me to learn more about your heart for our mission? My reason for wanting to learn more is so that I can provide you with more meaningful follow-up on the difference you are making and share opportunities in areas that interest you. Would that work for you?
4. Don’t Make It About the Money or About You
It can be easy to fall into one of these ways of relating to your donors. Treating them as ATMs, like when you ask for a more significant gift before you have any relationship because you feel pressured to reach a goal. It becomes about the money and not the partnership.
Another way this happens is when you start treating donors as your friends, which then makes you feel uncomfortable asking for a gift or sharing big opportunities because you think you are protecting your donor. For example, if you know a donor well and know they have a child heading off to college, you might not ask for a gift because you assume they aren’t interested or don’t have capacity at the moment.
When you start deciding for donors and not offering opportunities, then you’re making it about you, and honestly, you’re robbing the donor of an opportunity to find joy through their giving. Here is what it could sound like to check in, so you aren’t making the decision for the donor or chasing after the money:
Nathan, I can only imagine how stressful that has been this year with what you have been sharing about your business, and I appreciate the time you have taken to connect. Typically, this time of year, you are making a generous contribution, and considering these recent challenges, I wanted to not make any assumptions and check in on whether your philanthropic goals need to shift this year.
And here’s what you could say if a donor didn’t give when they typically do:
Kristie, you have been giving generously every November for the past five years. I have not seen a gift come in this past November and wanted to check in to make sure that there is no error on our part. I know life can throw us curve balls, so I want to also make sure you are OK.
5. Provide Consistent, Meaningful Feedback on Impact
As a true partner, you are a friendly, professional connector who, with permission, provides consistent and meaningful feedback, connection, and opportunities for your donor to participate and give to your mission. You are finding out their interests, passions and communication preferences, and building individual communication plans using those learnings to make them meaningful. When you’re doing this, asking questions like this becomes a natural progression of your partnership toward an ask:
Mo, I have so enjoyed hearing about your family’s journey and your story behind your passion for this work. We have been talking about the advocacy program, and I’ve been sending you updates for a while. I’ve just learned about some new big bold plans and needs. Would you be interested in hearing about them?
6. Know How to Have Tough Conversations
I know this one can be scary, but think about it. Your role is to simply listen, be present, show empathy and work on any resolution over which you have control. Remember, it is always worse to not call a donor who you know is upset or to withhold the truth from your donor when something they care about, like a program, might not be doing as well as expected.
Here’s some language for what that might look like in these scenarios:
Amani, I am reaching out because I understand that you gave an incredibly generous gift and we never got back to you. That is a total error on our part — not at all acceptable. I want to apologize and find some way to make it right.
Listen to Amani’s anger or frustration and then continue:
I hear how excited you were to make a bigger impact in our kids’ after-school program and totally get how disrespected and unappreciated you felt when you never heard back! Would you be open to me setting up a conversation with our program director, so you can hear firsthand about the impact your gift will be making?
And here’s what you might say to your donor when something isn’t going as planned:
Frank, you made such a significant investment in our new music program, and I want you to know what is working and not working along the way. We have hit a big obstacle with the school system that, at the moment, is preventing us from moving forward. Do you have some time so I can update you?
Being a true partner is really about showing up in that relationship in a way that’s honoring and respectful to the donor. The language I’ve shared here uses permission-based asking to check in with the donor and empower them to actively engage in the conversation. From this space, even if the conversation is challenging, you’re able to strengthen the partnership in the long term.
And I also want to celebrate you and remind you that you are helping your donors be change agents around issues that connect deeply to their hearts. Because of you, donors are experiencing a real partnership with a nonprofit that is meaningful to them. Because of you, donors feel valued as human beings and not just wanted for their money. And because of your commitment to treating your donors as true partners, your mission can grow and change the world.
The preceding post was provided by an individual unaffiliated with NonProfit PRO. The views expressed within do not directly reflect the thoughts or opinions of NonProfit PRO.
Related story: 15 Questions to Go Deeper with Your Donor
Karen Kendrick is the senior director of learning at Veritus Group. She has a master’s degree in education and counseling and more than 28 years’ experience in nonprofit fundraising — both in the education market and for social service agencies.
Karen has served as program director and executive director of a nonprofit, giving her both programmatic and administrative experience. She has created strong comprehensive fundraising programs from the ground up and served as a director of development and major gift officer.