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Building Relationships with Donors

A Checklist for Creating a Proactive-Relationship Development Process

Not-for-profit organizations depend on the financial support of individuals and corporate donors, and whether you realize it or not, a pledge can be the beginning of a long-term relationship with your organization. Or, as Humphrey Bogart so eloquently put it, a donation to support your cause can be "the start of a beautiful friendship."

Unfortunately, many organizations struggle to find the time to establish relationships with donors. Phone calls, people dropping by, employee issues, and e-mails seem like a giant time-sucking machine that descends from the ceiling in your office and vacuums the life out of your day. With corporate and individual donors struggling financially, building relationships with your supporters has never been more important.

Here are some tips for building highly effective relationships with your support base. Treat the following suggestions as a checklist to see how your organization is doing on the proactive-relationship development front:

  • After you receive a donation, reach out to the donor (if you'd like help writing scripts to help you do this, e-mail me at Make it clear how much you appreciate his/her/their generosity and support. Sometimes a simple "thank you" goes a long way toward securing another gift.
  • Be direct, but honest. A pledge drive or capital campaign is the most obvious way that potential donors see your financial needs, but be clear that your work will not stop once you reach your year-end goals. People need to see your vision, understand your mission, and see the impact of their generosity on those your serve.
  • Be on the lookout for opportunities to establish new relationships. Everyone in your organization, including the board, should understand the types of donors you're looking for. Ambiguous statements such as "We need to find new supporters" usually fall on deaf ears. Work with your board to build a target profile, then evaluate your prospect list against that profile. (If you'd like a sample profile, e-mail me). Time is your most precious commodity, so make the best use of it by focusing on the right sources for leads.
  • After the first few donations, open a conversation with the donor to learn about his or her values, current situation, and future philanthropic goals. It's not about what you want to sell; it's about what they want to buy. Asking questions designed to get to know the supporter is of utmost importance. (For a call plan template, you guessed it—e-mail me!)
  • Provide incentives to board members, employees, and existing and potential donors to refer others your way. Think beyond a commemorative mug or tote bag. For example, one of the ways we help organizations is by creating short videos (we call them eVideoMails), outlining their missions and good works. That e-mail is sent to the donor base with a request to make a donation and to forward the video to potential donors, creating a donor-to-donor referral process. To see an example eVideoMail, go to Keeping your organization at the top of the donor's mind is essential, and sometimes the random acts of gratefulness produce the best results.

Your organization's management and board can also have a huge impact on the success of the development process. Establishing goals and expectations is important, but providing fun incentives like a day off or special recognition at a board meeting can make proactive-relationship development fun and effective.

In today's environment, a renewed commitment to expanding and acquiring relationships should be at the top of every not-for-profit's list of priorities. As industry trends change, any business that does not change the way it operates will be short-lived. It's time for your organization to examine closely what you are doing to meet the new challenges ahead.

Kevin Strickland, Not for Profit Group
© 2011, Not for Profit Group

building-relationships-with-donors_Kevin-Strickland.jpgKevin Strickland is president of the Not for Profit Group, a consultancy dedicated to helping not-for-profit organizations build effective development strategies. They have created a series of videos teaching key strategies for establishing a relationship-based development process. GuideStar Premium subscribers and GuideStar Exchange members receive a 20 percent discount on videos.


Topics: Fundraising