Navigating Donor Waters: What Snorkeling, Donor Relationships Share in Common
I enjoy snorkeling because I love to see reefs and beautiful fish. I relax when underwater and enjoy the feeling snorkeling brings.While snorkeling is possible in almost any body of water, most snorkelers prefer areas with minimal waves, warm water and shallow reefs. The deeper the water is, the darker the water is, and the more unknowns that exist.
Snorkeling and donor relationships can have common characteristics:
- You enjoy warm relationships with nature and people.
- Over time, you have deeper relationships with others at deeper depth levels.
- You appreciate the beauty of the water and the beauty of being with others.
- You can learn from the sea and from every donor experience.
- You understand your limits of diving and should understand the limits of donor relationships.
- You experience the joy of fun things, and you seek common ground with donors on the areas of fun things.
- You quickly understand that people are like fish in the sense that each fish and individual has different colors and personalities.
- You note that fish have habits just like donors, and come and go in relationships.
- You appreciate the forces of nature and realize there are also forces of human nature that are out of your control.
According to Joe Garecht, major gift fundraising is all about relationships. To build a strong and sustainable relationship with your major donor prospects, here are four steps to keep in mind:
- “Get their attention.” Have someone connect you to the donor in some way. Invite the prospect to an event or ask the individual to volunteer. The possibilities are endless, but make the attempt to engage and get on his or her radar screen.
- “Build the relationship.” Constantly cultivate and educate prospects. Make them feel welcome and important. Understand their needs and listen.
- “Explain the investment.” As your relationship grows, you will know what interests the potential donor. The donor wants the most bang for his or her buck. How can you make a win-win situation real? What is the return on investment for his or her investment?
- “Emotion still trumps.” Tell the donor prospect stories. Show the individual positive outcomes that came through other donations. If at all possible, have donors talk to their peers. Let donor prospects and donors take facility tours. Let them see the end-result and be visual learners.
Building donor loyalty and engagement is very important. You need to have a strategy, and understand each donor’s needs and wants. You always need to cultivate donor prospects in a very positive manner.
If you snorkel too deep, the water becomes dark and you cannot stay down very long. The experience is not as enjoyable.
The same can be said with donor relationships.
There is a fine line in relationships with donors. You cannot get in too deep with them. Your relationship must stay institutional and not too personal. You must know what professional ethics are in this profession. You need to stay honest and transparent in dealings with others. Your reputation and the institution’s reputation are important.
The Association of Fundraising Professionals (AFP) provides standards of ethical principles.
Some of these standards include:
- Honest representation of products, services and intent.
- Transparent and reasonable relationships.
- Maintain confidential information shared between donor and institution.
- Protection of donor and prospect information.
- Refusal of commission-based fees for services not provided or that do no meet prevailing practices within the organization.
- Avoidance of conflict of interest of any form.
The key is being a professional at all times. Be honest, ethical and transparent.
Like snorkeling, we engage with donors at various levels. You have many shallow but positive relationships. Over time, you will experience much deeper relationships with a few donors. Your interactions will take many different forms and colors, like fish on the reef. Be careful how you navigate donor waters. Be mature in all of your dealings, and understand in many cases you are the caretaker of donor relationships from one professional to another. Swim wisely and always seek to enjoy the warm experience.
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.