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How to Cultivate Your Donor Relationships for Maximum Growth

It’s not enough to ask. Donors need to feel invested to become long-term supporters.

By Bisk
How to Cultivate Your Donor Relationships for Maximum Growth

The axiom "It's who you know" is particularly true when it comes to fundraising. Charitable organizations depend heavily on the generosity of donors because when you're supporting a worthwhile cause or raising much-needed capital for a strategic endeavor, every dollar counts.

Cultivating solid and long-standing relationships with donors is paramount for any nonprofit organization’s success, but sometimes developing and furthering those relationships can be a challenge. While every donor is appreciated, sometimes major donors such as corporations or philanthropists need a little more attention to get them fully invested in your organization.

According to The Fundraising Authority, an online resource for nonprofits, there are four powerful ways to build meaningful donor relationships.

Attract Donor Attention

It’s a simple fact: If donors don’t know about your organization, they can’t make a contribution.

One of the easiest and most effective ways to generate awareness of your nonprofit is to request a personal introduction. If your agency has a board member, volunteer or employee who knows a potential donor, ask them to facilitate a face-to-face meeting. Often, their endorsement, especially to a potential donor who knows and trusts the opinion of the person vouching for your organization, will be enough to open the door to begin building a relationship.

If the potential donor isn’t known by anyone affiliated with your group, simply invite them to an event where they can see first-hand what your nonprofit does and learn more about your organization. Other possibilities include producing and releasing a report about a particular issue supported by your nonprofit and making sure a copy gets delivered to the potential donor, or championing a cause that you know is near and dear to the donor’s heart.

Build the Relationship

Once you have a potential donor’s attention, don’t sit idle. This doesn’t mean you should immediately ask for a donation. In fact, that’s the worst thing to do.

Instead, begin involving the donor in activities focused around your organization or issues it supports. Cultivate the relationship by seeking advice from the donor. Invite the donor to serve as a guiding voice by sitting on a committee or the board.

By making the donor feel like part of the team, you create a bond. The donor’s commitment will likely strengthen and grow organically.

Explain the Benefit

Donors are people, and people like to feel that they are making a difference. Before asking a donor for a financial commitment, explain how their contribution will help and what it will do specifically and for how many people.

Don’t be shy about details. It’s always good for donors to know that a nonprofit they support has a solid plan for what it hopes to accomplish and how the funds will be used. Tell them what outcome you expect and what return you hope to accomplish for the overall community.

Use Emotion

There are lots of worthwhile causes, but donors often give to those about which they feel most strongly.

By making a compelling pitch that also has emotional resonance, donors can visualize how their contribution might directly help, and come to believe their involvement is a wise investment. The more personally invested a donor is in your organization, the more likely they are to continue to contribute on a consistent basis.

Consistent Cultivation Yields Donor Results

Now that you’ve learned how to build relationships, how do you continue to attract new donors to maximize your fundraising potential?

The Fundraising Authority recommends four approaches to engage and manage these relationships.

Know Your Relationship

There are two types of relationships – interpersonal and organizational. Interpersonal relationships include people who know and trust you or someone involved with your agency, or someone who has been helped by your nonprofit. Often, that connection will inspire a donation.

Organizational relationships are ones you cultivate and build by educating people about your cause, by involving them in your mission, or through word of mouth from publicity your nonprofit has generated.

Don’t Strong-Arm

There is a difference between cultivating a donation and trying to force one. Don’t ask people involved with your nonprofit to pressure or cajole their friends to donate. Not that it doesn’t work at times, but that approach typically yields short-lived gains.

A better, more sustainable approach is to encourage individuals involved with your group to ask friends to attend the next event, to tour your facility, to come to lunch or, best of all, to volunteer. By involving them directly, those prospects are more likely to make consistent donations over an extended period of time once they have seen your nonprofit in action.

Mission Control

Knowing what you stand for and how you plan to achieve goals is vital to generating donations.

Donors like to know how their money will be used and what it is going to support. If you’re not able to convey your agency’s mission in a concise, enthusiastic fashion that generates excitement, you may lose their support.

Organized Prospecting

It’s not enough to simply sound a call for prospects. Successful nonprofits have a plan for finding new people, for engaging them and for contacting them.

Without a documented strategy and an organized effort, prospecting, like fundraising, can miss the desired goal.

The Fundraising Authority recommends using a whiteboard to track progress for each potential prospect so you and your team can chart the approach and the success of each effort.

By learning how to cultivate relationships with major donors and by focus your efforts to consistently increase donor prospects the right way, a nonprofit can maximize its time and energy to successfully gain new supporters and receive the most significant contributions to further its cause.

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Category: Nonprofit Leadership