Three Prospect Research Myths Debunked
April 24, 2019
A Menu of Fundraising Options for Your Board
May 8, 2019

Keeping Your Donors Close

I’ve just spent the last two weeks traveling to see friends in Europe. The reason I went was to celebrate a big birthday with a long-time friend from the UK who wanted to bring friends together to celebrate in Spain. While I was in that part of the world, I also saw friends in London and Oxford. Some of these friends I have had for 20 years. Others I met when I lived in England just a few years ago.

Even though there is a vast geographic difference between us, I keep in touch with these far-away friends. An e-mail here, a Skype call every once in a while, holiday and birthday cards…

I am happy to say when we get together, it feels like we’ve just seen each other.

But I can also see it going the other way. If we didn’t make an effort, we could so easily fall out of touch.

It’s the same with fundraising. You’ve got to stay in touch. And not just with solicitations.

You wouldn’t just contact your friends for favors over and over again without the back and forth of friendship in between. And you can’t ask your donors over and over for money without building a relationship with them.

Just like we work to build friendships with those important in our life, we also have to work to nurture our relationships with our donors.

Get to know them: It takes time, but as you hang out with friends and listen, you discover their life journey so far and what they are hoping for out of life. This is critical in fundraising, too. Whether you use surveys, welcome calls, or just a sit-down conversation, you want to learn about your donors. Why do they support you? What is their connection to your cause? How do they see themselves involved in your work?

Figure out what they like: In the process of getting to know a friend, you start figuring out what makes them happy. I know my friend Helen loves jewelry, so for her big birthday I searched for and found just the right necklace. As you get to know your donors, you’ll find out what they like. I had a donor in my days at Greenpeace that loved turtles. We sent her a carved turtle that came from our office in Thailand that she loved. She was a substantial planned giving donor and she mentioned the turtle every time I spoke with her. Often it’s the little personal touches that matter the most!

Be on the same wavelength: I have a friend who only uses Facebook Messenger. Even if I text her, I still hear back that way. So, I’ve switched my method of communicating with her to Messenger to keep it easier. Some of your donors are going to be that way, too.  I had a donor once who would only respond to the telephone no matter what kind of mail we sent him.  Make sure you know your donors preferred communication habits. It will definitely save you time!

Touch base when you haven’t heard from them: One of the people I visited on this recent trip I hadn’t heard from for a year. I e-mailed her that I was coming to London and we reconnected over pints at the pub and memory-filled dinners. I hope we stay in touch because I so enjoy being her friend. Lapsed donors provide incredible opportunities to rekindle lost relationships. Consider your lapsed donor pools and get back in touch.

Sit down face-to-face when you can: E-mails, text, and calls are all fine, but to really keep a relationship going, you have to see each other in person. There’s nothing like it. You may not be able to visit with all of your donors face-to-face, but try to connect in-person with as many major donors, long-time givers, and planned giving donors as you can. You can use small gatherings to do this, too.

Start a conversation: Just as you wouldn’t lecture a friend or talk endlessly about yourself, be careful that your communications don’t become all about you. Ask for your donors’ opinions and allow them to tell you what your organization means to them. You’ll be amazed at what you learn.

Need some more ideas for turning your donors into friends? See Ken Burnett’s classic Relationship Fundraising: A Donor-Based Approach to the Business of Raising Money


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