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A Long-Term View on Donor Relationships

By Tom Watson on February 17, 2006No Comment
ConversationA Long-Term View on Donor Relationships

If someone were to ask you, “What is the main purpose of fundraising?” the answer seems pretty self-evident. You need to raise money in order to sustain the mission of your organization. However, in order to accomplish that feat, one first has to identify and gain the support of numerous individuals and businesses that want to help the cause. With this in mind, you could say that the main purpose of fundraising is to establish and cultivate relationships with those who will support your cause.

No one said that it’s easy to foster relationships. It takes an investment in time, energy and money to build meaningful relationships — especially if we are to establish any level of trust. It takes this and more to cultivate relationships with those we interact with every day. And fundraisers have to use similar principles to establish and cultivate relationships with their donors.

This notion is difficult for many fundraisers because you cannot always break a relationship down into a financial projection or return on investment calculation. You have to understand that you reap what you sow, and by nature, people respond in a positive manner when they are appreciated for what they are doing. In short, people remember.

In a similar vein, the term “lifetime value” is often used to express the amount of money an organization might receive from a donor throughout the duration of the relationship. I believe there’s a need to embrace a more humanistic equation that treats a member’s “worth” as “generosity.” This encourages fundraisers to view each donor as more than a mere statistic. By adopting such an approach, everyone involved in the fundraising process can make decisions that place the donor in a much warmer, favorable light. This is especially vital now, when donors are more deliberate about which organizations receive their money. After all, there are well over 1,000,000 charitable organizations competing for the charitable dollar.

So, what can you do to make your organization or cause distinctive when so many are soliciting for charitable dollars? You may have heard the adage, “It’s highly unlikely to bring about substantial change by doing things the same old way.” To that, I might add that, “Nothing becomes dynamic, until it becomes specific.” As fundraisers, we should plan and outline specific ways to communicate the uniqueness of our cause. Correspondingly, we must be equally precise about the activities and methods we use to establish more meaningful relationships with our donors.

And we must do it continuously, even when the returns aren’t quickly and easily quantifiable. Because down the road, they will be in every meaningful way.

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