By Susan Ross, Partner.
Last month I loved being a volunteer faculty member for AFP’s three-day intensive Fundamentals of Fundraising course. My portion of the training used 46 slides and two hours to reinforce one critical point: “Building and maintaining relationships is at the core of successful fundraising.”
What does that mean for you and your nonprofit? Based on a dozen years leading moss+ross and three decades of fundraising for Duke, my experience says that building great working relationships with good people interested in your cause starts with valuing them beyond their gifts. Take time to hear their stories and learn from them. Seek their input and make sure they hear important information directly from you. As you bring them closer to the work you are doing, you may see them invest in a bigger way and become your organization’s biggest advocates.
A few key points I made in my session:
- Philanthropy is more than ASK and GET. Your goal is to build a culture of philanthropy.
- Don’t think of your role as “cultivating” donors, think of it as “engaging” them. Unless yours is an agriculture-based cause, the crop reference can backfire.
- Likewise, the concept of “moves” would be offensive to most donors. Prospective donors are not chess pieces…just stay in touch and take notes so there is a good record.
- Take time to understand a donor’s background through appropriate research, but don’t get bogged down in prep and not get around to making the call.
- You will learn a great deal from a meeting or call when you ask engaging questions of donors and listen well to understand their motives.
- Donors will give you clues when they are ready to move from small talk to serious talk. These are busy people, so pay attention and be ready. Keep up the pace and do not let them get frustrated with too much chit chat.
You are not trying to be buddies with your donors, though long-time fundraisers often do end up with many friends through their work. You are aspiring to professional relationships, based on mutual appreciation for one another and a two-way trust that ensures monies requested and given will be managed well.
Fundraisers and Executive Directors are the faces of their causes, and the stewardship role they play in helping philanthropists do good in the world is a valuable one. Approach these opportunities with confidence that you are exactly the right person to handle this conversation and build this relationship. When you do the early steps well, the donor will trust you to handle future transactions.