Deepen Donor Relationships: Make Each Donor Feel Important
If you are a regular Bedrocks & Beacons reader (thank you very much!), you know that I am a proponent of research, planning and the right implementation in fundraising. One of the benefits of having a fundraising plan—from a major campaign, to an annual campaign, to overall advancement—is that systems are in place to deepen donor relationships.
Without a plan based on research and properly implemented—and monitoring is a big part of implementation—you can fail to connect with donors.
Each donor is important and deserves to feel valued and appreciated by your organization. Each donor needs to know of the life-changing and/or life-saving impact of his or her gift investment.
Too often, organizations blow relationships with donors large and small. And, too often, it is a lack of details, communication and listening that does them in.
Recently, I read of a major bequest—nearly $100 million—to an independent school. I was excited for the school, but sad for a former client whom I knew was, at one time, to share in that gift. However, that relationship soured, and I was an unfortunate observer.
The donor had made a seven-figure gift to our client and preferred to remain anonymous. Adding in a future planned gift, the donation could have been even more, but our client’s CEO—more concerned with his ego and getting credit than developing a deep donor relationship—made some serious mistakes.
The CEO, who was famous—probably infamous—for not listening, put the donor’s name on the building without the donor’s permission. The donor protested repeatedly, and ultimately it took a call to the CEO, threatening to cancel the gift if his name did not disappear right away. Finally, the CEO listened. A short time later, the CEO was embroiled in turmoil as his senior staff turned on him, and the organization’s culture imploded. A few years later the board finally announced his early “retirement.”
During this turmoil and the subsequent leadership transition, no one was focused on this donor relationship, and the planned gift that the donor had self-identified obviously disappeared. There was repeated turnover in senior development leadership, institutional memory was lost and no one was focused on this major relationship.
In another sad example, friends of mine made the largest gift ever to a college and quietly named a building in honor of a college leader. But when it came time for the groundbreaking, the donors weren’t there. Why? The college failed to check the donors’ calendars and scheduled the groundbreaking at a time when they couldn’t attend. And once the oversight was discovered, the college then failed to move the groundbreaking to a time when the donors could be present.
If large organizations can drop the ball on major gift relationships as in these examples, how carefully do they steward smaller gifts or nurture relationships with donors of any size?
Be sure that you have plans to reach out to donors at all levels and to bring them closer to your mission and your organization. Make it as tailored and personal as possible. Engage your staff and volunteers—and those who benefit from the donations in these plans. And keep it fun! Celebrate each donor and each gift.
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.