Coffee and Conversation—A Meaningful Donor Relationship Scenario
I recently attended a coffee and conversation event set up by my staff. The purpose of the event was to educate, thank and inform donors in a special and warm way. The event numbers, by design, was small and intimate in nature. Approximately 20 people attended. This number included the organizational CEO and COO, plus key staff and donors. The staff that attended had a direct relationship with the donors in their portfolio. Breakfast was provided and the event had an informal feel to it. The conversation started at 8:00 a.m. and was over by 9:30 a.m.
Every donor in attendance received up-to-date statistics and impact statements that showed how their funds were spent. They received a gift bag filled with items, such as an organizational magazine, save-the-date card for future events, organizational tumbler, Valentine candy, planned giving brochure and gift club information. Donors in attendance had time to meet other donors and staff, plus organizational leadership. Donors were asked why they gave time, talent and treasure to the organization. Those present were excited to learn more about the organization. The organizational leaders were excited to share emotional stories of how the organization made impact on many in our community.
The program provided a historical overview of the organization and organizational mission plus key activities held throughout the year. Donors were invited throughout the presentation to stop and ask questions. Open discussion was encouraged by all. The conversation was extremely positive. Part of the dialogue was asking donors for advice as how the staff could provide a deeper and richer donor experience between them and the organization.
Donors were also asked how they liked to be communicated with and how often the communication should take place. One donor noted that she loved to receive information through the mail by her major gift relations officer. The goal of this exchange was to ask for input and make donors feel part of the organizational family. The event was all about building and strengthening donor relationships.
Why are donor relationships important? According TSNE MissionWorks, the national donor retention rate is 39 percent. Fundraisers need to pay attention to the fact that the first gift is a hello and fundraisers must listen to our donors, understand what inspires them and help them achieve their best philanthropy. For centuries, we have known that fundraising is based upon relationships. Penelope Burks, Donor-Centered Fundraising, notes that donors need to feel appreciated and valued and their involvement with organization is the foundation for their philanthropy. The goal is for organizations to seek to deepen their relationships with donors that lead to enhanced giving.
According to Fundraising Authority, fundraising is all about relationships, which motivates people to give. Major donor prospects must feel that they have a strong relationship with your organization prior to making a financial commitment or hopefully the next larger gift. The four keys for relationship building are to get a donor’s attention by having them come to an event, volunteering, building the relationship, explaining the investment and creating an emotional connection. Seek to tell the donor impact stories and engage them in any personal way.
Bloomerang notes that organizational staff must provide maximum enthusiasm to the donors they serve about the organization they represent. Relationship-building is the essence of fundraising. You want donors and prospects to feel good about your organization.
Strong donor relationships lead to, if not all of, the following absolutely critical steps to the fundraising process:
- People genuinely wanting to be with your team
- Stewardship of others
- Excitement about your meetings and events
- Long periods of consecutive giving
- Increasingly larger annual giving
- Interest in volunteering
- Sharing of communications with others
- Legacy giving
Relationship-building leads to increased retention and major gifts success. It leads to positive stewardship, greater involvement, increased organizational knowledge to share with others and an ongoing wonderful engagement for a long period of time.
If you want your staff, administration, volunteers, board members and others to own the fundraising process, seek ways to engage donors. It means everything if donors can come to you so they can immerse themselves in your organization. An easy way to start is by having a series of coffee and conversations. It is about quality and not quantity of personal interaction. The fewer donors that attend at one time the better so they feel special.
In my case, after the coffee and conversation event was over, I spent the next hour taking a donor on a one-on-one visit through our building telling stories and seeking a stronger relationship with a very interested donor. I am confident that tour will lead to increased gifts.
Regardless of donor interaction, this process enables everyone to own their responsibility for philanthropy. What have you done to create your donor conversation?
Duke has extensive experience as a nonprofit practitioner, author, lecturer and consultant. He has been a contributing author to NonProfit PRO for the last 11 years. He has been a long-standing member of the Association of Fundraising Professionals where he was previously named the AFP Indiana Chapter Fundraising Executive of the Year and has held the CFRE designation for many years.
He received his doctorate degree from West Virginia University with an emphasis in education administration, master's degree from Marshall University with an emphasis in public administration and a bachelor's degree from West Virginia University with an emphasis in marketing/management. He has also completed post graduate work at the University of Louisville.
He is currently executive director of development for The Salvation Army Indiana Division in Indianapolis, Indiana. Contact Duke at firstname.lastname@example.org or 317-224-1029.