Listen up. In “No” is not the end of the conversation Chuck English channels the old Dale Carnegie manifesto, How to Win Friends and Influence People, and reminds us of the significance of listening — showing genuine interest in others and encouraging folks to talk about themselves. This has always been the key to success, both in sales and fundraising .
We must care not just about fulfilling our nonprofit mission, but also about the supporters who make our mission possible. This is why, personally, I’d prefer ‘making’ to ‘winning’ friends; they’re not a prize but, rather, someone with whom we align in a mutually supportive relationship.
Quality trumps quantity when it comes to sustaining donor relationships. As tempted as we are to spew out countless emails, tweets, Facebook and blog posts to an undiscriminating audience, we must build loyalty through understanding donor psychology and the why of loyalty; then apply that to relationship building. Relationship building is a donor-centered activity that includes two core elements: (1) donor-centered communications and (2) donor-centered engagement activities.
“Great relationships are an important element to our personal happiness. People buy from people” notes Kathi Kruse in The Ultimate Intent for Social Business: Remarkable Relationships. Frequent, indiscriminate broadcasting does not meet the relationship-building standard – it’s all about us. There’s no human connection. Personally nurtured donor relationships, however, can result in a steady stream of contributions. (And, yes, we can also be personal through social media; when we are, the folks to whom we relate most strongly will likely influence others within their social networks to also support us.)
Relationships begin by establishing a functional connection between our consumer (prospective donor) and our brand (what we can reliably be expected to deliver). Once this basic level of satisfaction is achieved, we have the opportunity to build the personal connection – and the level of commitment. What makes the connection personal is a two-way street of give and take.
Relationships are based in associations, linkages and involvement. Connections and connecting. The prospect knows we know them, and we care about connecting with what they care about. As Brian Brown notes in Why You Have to Understand a Cocktail Party in Order to Understand Twitter:
At a cocktail party, you wouldn’t walk in and yell, “Buy my product!” You’d head for the people you knew, get introduced to other people, and have conversations in which you’d find areas of mutual interest and perhaps provide advice or help to each other. You’d act like you actually cared about the other person; what he wanted, what he was saying. You might get a client, but first, you’d get a friend.
Building relationships is also a lot like planting a seed, nurturing it and watching it grow. The linchpin is trust – that we’ll continue to tend to the garden. When donors see us toiling in the vineyards they’re more likely to join with us, side by side. It’s a hands-on relationship now. We treat donors as partners; not as strangers. And we continue to reinforce the bonds by thankingfolks; we show them their labors are bearing fruit.
Over time, the little seed of trust will grow into a tree. If we tend the tree well, social media (and before social media, what we called ‘word-of-mouth’) can grow many branches onto our tree. Check out Windmill Networking for Neal Schaffer’s excellent tips for nurturing relationships.
The paradigm shift is from expecting donors to act altruistically to understanding that supporters require reciprocal care and feeding. This means embracing stewardship, and understanding that donor acquisition will not meet our long-term sustainability goals absent a focus on donor retention . And building relationships can even be measured per an excellent white paper from a recent Blackbaud Summit.
Relationship building is a discipline that can never stop. Simply having satisfied customers does not mean we can rest on our laurels. Do you still see Coca Cola advertising? Of course! In Why a Satisfied Donor is Not a Retained Donor, Kevin Schulman discusses how relationship theory (emotional and personal) is underpinning exchange theory (functional and satisfaction-based). The relationship paradigm looks at key drivers of donor commitment and loyalty (e.g., marketing communications and fundraising activities) that demonstrate a measurable impact on stronger donor loyalty. In other words, per a report by Ken Burnett, we can’t just influence behaviors; we must influence attitudes to impact retention.
Let’s not be stupid anymore. It’s not the great letter, the cool event, the glitzy annual report or the newsletter that will make friends and influence people.
It’s the relationships.