Donor Relationships

An organization’s relationship with its donors collectively and individually is the lifeblood of its fundraising efforts. Those relationships deliver vitality to everything an organization does to raise money. Weak donor relationships yield weak fundraising outcomes. But far too many nonprofits have focused far too often on those fundraising outcomes—the money—rather than on the donors of that money.

There is no contributed income without contributors. This is no chicken-or-egg thing. Before there is a gift, there has to be a giver.

Successful fundraising efforts are based on well cultivated relationships with donors. Know your donors and respect them. Understanding what has and will continue to motivate them to prioritize their commitment to your organization and its mission puts you are on the path to a steady flow of contributed income.

A successful development operation is donor centric.


Articles about Donor Relationships

Building Donor Loyalty

These eight articles have been edited into a book format. While best read sequentially, each is a stand alone article.

Building Donor Loyalty Chapter 1
A Goal for Every Organization

This is the first of eight chapters on building donor loyalty. The Table of Contents below will take you to additional chapters. Table of Contents Chapter 1: A Goal for Every Organization Chapter 2: A Strategy for Cultivating Relationships with Donors Chapter 3: What You Need to Know about Your Donors Chapter 4: The Importance of Being Donor Centric Chapter 5: Tactics for Cultivating Relationships with Donors Chapter 6: Stewards of Other People’s Money Chapter 7: Tools for Donor Cultivation Chapter 8: Surveying Your Donors Chapter 1 A Goal for Every Organization When we set fund-raising goals, we usually cast them in terms of dollars. However, the major fund-raising goal of any organization should be to build a base of loyal, supportive donors who give money year after year, campaign after campaign. It is that base of loyal, supportive donors upon which the financial goals of every campaign are built, making donor loyalty the most critical element of long-term fund-raising success. The only bigger sin than allowing the first gift received from a donor to become the only gift received from that donor is allowing the most recent gift from a donor who has made multiple gifts, to become the last gift from that donor. That’s because the longer a donor gives to an organization the more likely those gifts are to grow in size and frequency. Losing a donor is so painful to me that my objective has always been to never allow it to happen. I wish I could say I have met that objective. Still though, we must strive to hold onto every donor by consciously... read more

Building Donor Loyalty Chapter 2
A Strategy for Cultivating Relationships

This is the second of eight chapters on building donor loyalty. The Table of Contents below will take you to additional chapters. Table of Contents Chapter 1: A Goal for Every Organization Chapter 2: A Strategy for Cultivating Relationships with Donors Chapter 3: What You Need to Know about Your Donors Chapter 4: The Importance of Being Donor Centric Chapter 5: Tactics for Cultivating Relationships with Donors Chapter 6: Stewards of Other People’s Money Chapter 7: Tools for Donor Cultivation Chapter 8: Surveying Your Donors Chapter 2 A Strategy for Cultivating Relationships with Donors We cultivate relationships with donors in order to bring them closer to an organization and strengthen their connection with that organization.  There are many tools and techniques for cultivating donors, but before you can cultivate donors, you have to get them. So, a few words on donor acquisition need to preface our discussion of donor cultivation. Donors almost invariably fall into one of two groups: Those whose lives have been touched by the organization. Hospitals always put former patients high on their list of potential donors. Schools and universities have entire departments devoted to alumni relations. At the Cleveland Orchestra, we collected the names and addresses of everyone we could who purchased tickets. Those not personally touched by the organization, but who are influenced and impressed by its work or its leadership. Individual donors can fit easily into either of these categories. Foundations and corporations fall almost exclusively into the second group. However, it is possible that the people either recommending or approving grants and contributions may have been personally touched by the organization. Every... read more

Building Donor Loyalty Chapter 3
What You Need to Know about Your Donors

This is the third of eight chapters on building donor loyalty. The Table of Contents below will take you to additional chapters. Table of Contents Chapter 1: A Goal for Every Organization Chapter 2: A Strategy for Cultivating Relationships with Donors Chapter 3: What You Need to Know about Your Donors Chapter 4: The Importance of Being Donor Centric Chapter 5: Tactics for Cultivating Relationships with Donors Chapter 6: Stewards of Other People’s Money Chapter 7: Tools for Donor Cultivation Chapter 8: Surveying Your Donors Chapter 3 What You Need to Know about Your Donors There are many ways to collect information about donors. Remembering the 80/20 rule, it’s obvious you’re going to put more hands-on time and effort into collecting information about the 20% of donors who give 80% of contributed income. However, that doesn’t mean you should ignore the rest. All donors are capable of growth. And your largest donors today probably started out making far smaller gifts. You need to develop profiles of all your donors. It’s just that the profiles of your smaller givers are unlikely to be as fleshed-out as those of your largest donors. It’s common sense that you will know a lot better the donor who gives a hundred thousand dollars than one who gives a hundred. Nevertheless, you should be collecting basic profile information on all donors. One more word of, I guess, caution. You’re not going to be able to get all the information listed here. But try. Over time, you’ll be surprised at how much of it you will be able to collect. The real value of a donor database-a... read more

Building Donor Loyalty Chapter 4
The Importance of Being Donor Centric

This is the fourth of eight chapters on building donor loyalty. The Table of Contents below will take you to additional chapters. Table of Contents Chapter 1: A Goal for Every Organization Chapter 2: A Strategy for Cultivating Relationships with Donors Chapter 3: What You Need to Know about Your Donors Chapter 4: The Importance of Being Donor Centric Chapter 5: Tactics for Cultivating Relationships with Donors Chapter 6: Stewards of Other People’s Money Chapter 7: Tools for Donor Cultivation Chapter 8: Surveying Your Donors Chapter 4 The Importance of Being Donor Centric An organization becomes donor centric when it recognizes donors as its lifeblood and makes their care a central aspect of its endeavors. Notice that I have said “a” central aspect, not “the” central aspect. It would be a sham non-profit organization that centered its existence simply on raising money. The mission of all non-profits should be to do good works in some way, shape, or form. However, if an organization is to build donor loyalty and develop the strong donor relationships that will assure its long-term growth, it must make cultivating donors and managing its relationships with them a core organizational value. Donor cultivation must be embraced as an objective by every department, staff member, and board member. If your organization is to be donor centric you must avoid isolating fund-raising from the rest of the work the organization does. The organization must acknowledge that fund-raising is a shared responsibility. If board chairs and executive directors recognize fund-raising as one of their top three responsibilities, they will infuse their organization with a positive view of fund-raising. If... read more

Building Donor Loyalty Chapter 5
Tactics for Cultivating Relationships

This is the fifth of eight chapters on building donor loyalty. The Table of Contents below will take you to additional chapters. Table of Contents Chapter 1: A Goal for Every Organization Chapter 2: A Strategy for Cultivating Relationships with Donors Chapter 3: What You Need to Know about Your Donors Chapter 4: The Importance of Being Donor Centric Chapter 5: Tactics for Cultivating Relationships with Donors Chapter 6: Stewards of Other People’s Money Chapter 7: Tools for Donor Cultivation Chapter 8: Surveying Your Donors Chapter 5 Tactics for Cultivating Relationships with Donors You’ve recognized the importance of building donor loyalty through the strategy of donor cultivation. You’ve identified the data needed to build the donor profiles necessary to donor cultivation, and your organization is ready to commit to developing a donor centric culture. It’s time to get down to the brass tacks of implementing a donor cultivation strategy. A strategy is a plan for what we want to accomplish. Tactics are how we go about doing it. Strategy is grand design. Tactics are life in the trenches. To implement our strategy of building donor relationships and loyalty, let’s take a look at seven basic techniques of donor cultivation. For each technique, I’ll be giving examples of specific tactics you can use. The seven are: Bring donors to the organization. Go out to meet donors. Keep in touch with donors. Look for ways to help donors, i.e., facilitating business & social contacts Bring donors closer. Find ways to connect them with program & other staff. Always thank donors quickly and accurately for their generosity. Recognize donors in ways that they... read more

Building Donor Loyalty Chapter 6
Stewards of Other People’s Money

This is the sixth of eight chapters on building donor loyalty. The Table of Contents below will take you to additional chapters. Table of Contents Chapter 1: A Goal for Every Organization Chapter 2: A Strategy for Cultivating Relationships with Donors Chapter 3: What You Need to Know about Your Donors Chapter 4: The Importance of Being Donor Centric Chapter 5: Tactics for Cultivating Relationships with Donors Chapter 6: Stewards of Other People’s Money Chapter 7: Tools for Donor Cultivation Chapter 8: Surveying Your Donors Chapter 6 Stewards of Other People’s Money When it comes to raising money from foundations and corporations, cultivating relationships with them, and turning them into loyal donors, there are three key elements we need to remember. Most importantly, the decision to award a grant is made by people. That means most of what we do to court individual donors works just as well with foundation and corporate decision makers. But there is a difference, and that difference is the second most important thing to remember. The money they give away is not theirs. Except in the case of a tightly controlled family foundation, those people are stewards of other people’s money. When it comes to cultivating foundations and corporations and turning them into loyal donors, you need to respond to each foundation and corporation as you would to an individual donor. A few words about that third point: It needs to be done with active cultivation, careful consideration, and respectful appreciation. Active cultivation means you continuously work to cultivate relationships with the people at a foundation or corporation who award or influence the award of... read more

Building Donor Loyalty Chapter 7
Tools for Donor Cultivation

This is the seventh of eight chapters on building donor loyalty. The Table of Contents below will take you to additional chapters. Table of Contents Chapter 1: A Goal for Every Organization Chapter 2: A Strategy for Cultivating Relationships with Donors Chapter 3: What You Need to Know about Your Donors Chapter 4: The Importance of Being Donor Centric Chapter 5: Tactics for Cultivating Relationships with Donors Chapter 6: Stewards of Other People’s Money Chapter 7: Tools for Donor Cultivation Chapter 8: Surveying Your Donors Chapter 7 Tools for Donor Cultivation Tactics and tools are not always easily separated. In fact, many of the approaches we described as tactics a few minutes ago could be viewed as tools—newsletters, annual reports, greeting cards, press releases, etc. Just as the tools we are about to discuss could be recast as tactics. For me, something is more readily seen as a tactic when it is so familiar that we have no need to explain what it is. Newsletters, annual reports, greeting cards, and press releases certainly fall into this category. With tactics, we only need to show why they should be used. Tools on the other hand, are less likely to be so ingrained in our work process. Tools, for me, are things that need to be explained. Their use needs to be learned. The value inherent in their use may not be as easily seen. Particularly when it means adopting new technology or making an investment in their acquisition and implementation. Over the past decade, two high-tech tools have become increasingly available and effective for managing and cultivating donor relationships. The first... read more

Building Donor Loyalty Chapter 8
Sample Donor Survey Questionnaire

This is the eighth of eight chapters on building donor loyalty. The Table of Contents below will take you to additional chapters. Table of Contents Chapter 1: A Goal for Every Organization Chapter 2: A Strategy for Cultivating Relationships with Donors Chapter 3: What You Need to Know about Your Donors Chapter 4: The Importance of Being Donor Centric Chapter 5: Tactics for Cultivating Relationships with Donors Chapter 6: Stewards of Other People’s Money Chapter 7: Tools for Donor Cultivation Chapter 8: Surveying Your Donors Chapter 8 Sample Donor Survey Questionnaire  What Do You Know About Your Donors? If you want donors to be loyal to, and support, your organization—they must know you, trust you, and believe that you are fulfilling your mission and using their contributions wisely. If you don’t know who your donors are and what they think of your organization—you can’t successfully communicate with them. Donor Surveys Help You Learn About Your Donors Donor surveys can be implemented in a number of ways, including mail, e-mail, telephone, focus discussions, and face-to-face meetings. Whether comprehensive one-to-one interviews, or a mix of any of the other options, surveys do not need to be complicated research instruments. A simple questionnaire (or format, for personal meetings) can be tallied either by hand or, if you structure the questions right, on a simple computer spreadsheet. Guidelines First, take a hard look at what you want to learn and about the uses to which you intend to put their response. Although some questions are “standard,” you will be more productive if you develop a survey tailored to your organization’s specific need. Whether... read more