5 Principles for Building Strong Donor Relationships

People give to people.

Everything in your organization should revolve around building stronger relationships. From your staff, to your board, to your donors, to your corporate sponsors, everything should be about relationships.

Principle 1:  Build and maintain relationships.

Relationships are risky and they take time, but we have all heard the saying, “Nobody cares how much you know, until they know how much you care.”  It was true when Teddy Roosevelt said it and it is true today. The best fundraisers are people who care deeply. But even the best people have limitations to how many opportunities they move to solicitation while creating new relationships to keep tomorrow’s pipeline full. Use technology to keep up with the details of your relationships and your capacity to care will grow. As you build those relationships, great things happen in terms of donations and networking for donor prospects.

Principle 2: Treat supporters as partners.

When communicating with donors, treat them like an insider to the organization. Most people understand problem-solving is a critical function of success.  Show your donor how your solutions are working and ask them to collaborate — to step up to the plate with their time, intellect and cash to increase the reach and impact of the organization.

Principle 3: Be transparent inside and outside the organization.

I don’t suggest you show everyone how the sausage is made.  No one wants to know all the details and proper discretion is always in order, but your staff and volunteers do need to know the realities being faced. Your donors deserve the truth about successes and challenges facing the organization. Transparency builds trust and trust is core to relationships.

Principle 4: Welcome donor expertise.

This sounds so obvious, but a lot of organizations don’t match their actions with their words.  Countless books have been written on building great teams.  Stop treating your donors as spectators and bring them into the game.  They want their money to matter.  They want to see outcomes. Build a culture of inclusion and watch them engage like never before.

Principle 5: Ask.

As long as there have been people, there have been tough times.  As long as there have been tough times, people have sacrificed to help others.  When we understand that people want to be involved, it removes many of our barriers to talking directly about what that means to them. There are only a few people that can make mega-gifts, but we know everyone will give something if they can.  We also know most people won’t give if they are not asked.  So ask!

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