The Great Thinkers' Guide to Donor Relationships
I just wanted to let you know I’ve got a new girlfriend. I’m very excited, because I think she’ll be great for me. When I was prospecting for someone to support me, I asked a lot of girls out, and she’s the one who said yes.
Now that I’ve got her on board, I need to start moving her up the love pyramid right away. I’ll take her out eight or 10 times a year, asking her to pick up the check of course, and after each date I’ll send her a quick email (I’ve already written them all out in advance to save time) thanking her for a good time the night before.
If I do this consistently, I think I can get her to pick up bigger and bigger dinner checks, and after a few years, I’ll have her near the top of the dating pyramid.
Then I’ll pull out all the stops. I’ll send her some real personal letters that I actually signed and quickly ask her to be my lifetime partner by joining my Marriage Society. And then she’ll give me a ton of money and also leave me a big bequest in her will! It’ll be easy, right?
What’s that you say? You think this won’t work? That this is no way to have a relationship? That people can tell when they’re being “handled” … and they won’t put up with it for long?
Of course they won’t! And yet, despite our best efforts, how often do we find ourselves thinking just that way about the most important people in our professional lives, our donors?
So as I was thinking about this whole relationship thing, I looked up a few thoughts from some really smart people to see what kind of insight they could offer on how to make relationships strong and lasting. Here’s what some of them had to say:
'When you fish for love, bait with your heart, not your brain.' — Mark Twain
One thing we know about donors is that they give from their hearts. So we have to speak to them from ours. Yes, we need to make a rational and compelling case for giving, but we can’t forget that the decision to give is an emotional one. And if we want donors to feel compassion and urgency, we must speak to them compassionately and urgently.
Your organization tackles tough problems. Your donor cares enough, about both you and those problems, to give generously of herself to help. Together, you’re on a mission to find a happy ending to a dark and troubled story. And, like companion volumes of an epic novel, neither of you can reach the end without the other.
'Assumptions are the termites of relationships.' — Henry Winkler
OK, so “The Fonz” isn’t the first name that springs to mind in the pantheon of great thinkers. And yet he’s right. Don’t you remember your mother telling what happens when you assume?
One of the most common — and expensive — mistakes we fundraisers make is to assume donors are like us. That they will respond to what we respond to. So we drown them in statistics because numbers are important to us. We weave detailed narratives about our programs because they means so much to us. And yet, the thing donors really want to know is simply that their gifts will make a difference.
'Do to others as you would have them do to you.' — Jesus of Nazareth
It’s not called the Golden Rule for nothing. And nowhere is it more apropos than in fundraising. However much you want your donor to care about your work, you have to care that much and more. If you want your donor to be generous, you must be generous as well.
So, as in any relationship, to be successful, you have be the person you want your partner (or donor) to be. I just hope it’s not too late to try this with my girlfriend.
Willis believes in expressive writing, exceptional fundraising, and exuberant living.
Willis Turner is the senior copywriter at Huntsinger & Jeffer. He was an experienced writer and creative director in the traditional advertising world for more than 20 years before making the switch to fundraising nearly 15 years ago. In his work with nonprofit organizations and associations, he has written thousands of appeals, renewals and acquisition communications for every medium. He creates direct-response campaigns, as well as collateral materials and communications, that get attention, tell emotional stories, and persuade people to take action or make a donation.