What Does a Relationship Look Like Anyway?

I ended my post last week by saying, “I contend that the basic success factor of fundraising hasn’t changed: People want to have a relationship with the organizations they support.”

And yet, judging by many of the fundraising communications that cross my desk (from organizations seeking new donors to those contacting current donors), too many nonprofits are still unsure how to have a relationship that goes beyond the one I have with my bank’s ATM. You know, say a few “magic words” and get cash. But wait a minute—the ATM knows my name, remembers my usual activities so I can repeat them with ease and even wishes me “happy birthday” at the right time of year.

So, what will you do differently this year-end to build that relationship with your donors so you are still “best buds” come December of next year? I think it starts with looking at businesses and organizations with which we have a relationship and feel some loyalty to. What are they doing right that we can emulate?

1. They know my name. I regularly go to a restaurant—not the least expensive option, or even the one with the most exciting menu. But, it is the one that greets me by name and welcomes me with a smile. I feel valued from the minute I walk in the door, like they are genuinely glad I showed up.

How can you convey to your donors that you genuinely care about them as people, not just as accounts in the data base?

2. They care about me. I recently called about getting a replacement part for a product that was leaking water. I mentioned that I lived in Southern California, where we were in a severe drought, and I simply couldn’t afford to waste water. The woman on the telephone not only made sure she got me the part, but she asked about our prospects for rain and told me she would “say a little prayer” that we got rain soon. I hung up feeling cared for—as a customer and as a person.

When your donor calls, emails or writes in, are you taking the time to connect with them on a personal level to build a relationship—or is it all about keeping the time investment to the barest possible minimum so you maximize efficiency?

3. I am a regular recipient of value. One of the largest beneficiaries of charitable actions (as a group) are houses of worship (churches, mosques, synagogues, etc.). Yes, some people give out of guilt or a sense of obligation. But for many, they give because they are getting value—from services, prayer, assistance in times of difficulty and much more. They also see what their investments do through reports and physical changes, not to mention seeing “donations in action” through the programs they attend.

What can you give your donors that will be meaningful to them? It doesn’t have to cost a lot. It can be as simple as making sure you include an article in your newsletter about the progress you are making on a project that your donors supported. But don’t assume they realize the value; you have to show it to them.

4. Every time they talk to me, it isn’t at high-decimal level. We’ve all heard them—the commercials that make us want to turn off the radio. Our fundraising needs to break through all the other competing messages, but that doesn’t mean we have to scream all the time.

Are you having conversations with your donors and talking about what’s important to them, as well as offering them opportunities to financially invest in projects that are meaningful to them, or are you just shouting about your priorities and hoping they give?

5. They make me want to do business with them again.Have you ever called to order a “made for TV” product you saw advertised on television? There always seems to be so many “upsells” that I end up not wanting the product I called to purchase in the first place. Now, I understand marketing and I know all about loss leaders. But let’s face it—that company isn’t trying to build a relationship with me; they just want to get as big a sale as possible because they figure I’ll likely never come back.

Is the entire experience of donating to your organization—all the way through being thanked—one that leaves the donor wanting to give again? This is a good time of year to make a few donations to other organizations (some online and some via the mail). What aspect of each experience made you feel good? That’s what you want to be sure you are emulating in your organization.

Having long-lasting relationships with our donors means, in part, that we are seen as a welcomed presence in their homes, not a nuisance that they can’t seem to get rid of. Our donors should be happy to see our name in their inbox or on a piece of mail.

This old dog knows that it takes time and effort to build the kinds of relationships that make donors stay with us—but that doesn’t have to mean spending a lot of money. Instead, treat your donors the way they want to be treated. With that kind of relationship, they’re far more likely to overlook the little things we do that drive them crazy, and become donors that stick.

Originally published in NonProfit Pro.

Author: PJBarden

With a professional career in strategic fundraising that spans more than 35 years, Pamela brings a wealth of experience and knowledge to working with nonprofit organizations. She specializes in writing fundraising copy, grant proposals, P.R. materials, instructional articles and blog entries, as well as developing and executing fundraising strategy for her clients. Pamela is a Certified Fundraising Executive (CFRE); an instructor for UCLA Extension School’s Fundraising Certification Program and the University of La Verne, College of Business and Public Management; a frequent webinar speaker; and author of two online courses for UCLA Extension. Pamela earned a Doctorate of Business Administration in 2015; her doctoral project (dissertation) was entitled “Nonprofit Organizations’ Awareness of and Preparation for Legislation, Regulation, and Increasing Scrutiny.” She is a past winner of a Gold Award for Fundraising Excellence and an ECHO Award from DMA; recipient of a Distinguished Instructors Award from UCLA Extension; a weekly columnist for NonprofitPRO (formerly Fundraising Success); and a monthly contributor to Blackbaud’s blog, npEngage.

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