Today a friend, who serves on the board of a struggling local arts organization, asked me what they can do to increase their fundraising. I asked her a few questions; then answered simply: “Have more conversations with people; make more friends.”
You see, they have people who know about them but they’re just not giving.
They have donors, but they’re not giving enough.
Why? Because they haven’t been treated like friends and family. They don’t feel connected.
What’s the best advice to build stronger connections with likely supporters?
1. People Give to People
Remember this basic truth. Humans are a social species.
People also buy from people.
So if you consider fundraising “making a sale” (which I do, because it’s part of being human to be constantly trying to persuade others; read Daniel Pink’s To Sell is Human), you must show up as authentically human.
And how do you do this?
“Every sale begins with a conversation. If you’re not participating in conversations, you’re not selling. And conversations don’t have to be face-to-face or in real-time. The customer just wants to know that you care and that communication with them matters.”
— Kathi Kruse, Founder, Kruse Control Inc., retail social media marketing expert
Take a page from the old Dale Carnegie manifesto, How to Win Friends and Influence People.
2. Listen Up
- “Become genuinely interested in other people.”
- “Be a good listener.”
- “Encourage others to talk about themselves.”
This has always been the key to success, both in sales and fundraising. You must care not just about fulfilling your nonprofit mission, but also about the supporters who make your mission possible. This is why, personally, I’d prefer ‘making’ to ‘winning’ friends; they’re not a prize but, rather, someone with whom you align in a mutually supportive relationship.
3. Uncover Donors’ Personal Identity
Part of the human condition is a yearning to be part of a group. We’ve learned to engage with others by forging an identity, sticking close to people like ourselves, and participating in tribalism.
While this results in divisiveness in politics (not a felicitous outcome), it results in essential bonding and caring. In fact, Darwin positied the “fittest” were communities that cared for one another; they survived.
For your organization’s survival, your job is to find a way to make supporters/customers feel your brand is a part of their personal identity. That’s why asking people open-ended questions about their values, beliefs and traditions can feed an identity factor you can later nourish. You want them saying, thinking and feeling:
- I’m a social justice activist.
- I’m a patron of the arts.
- I’m an environmentalist.
- I’m a believer in science.
- I believe children are the future.
- I believe seniors should be honored and supported.
- … and so forth
Once it’s there, this identity factor is going to become virtually impossible to get rid of. It will become baked into the cake, and your donors will stay loyal. Hooray!
But, how do you get started?
4. Quality Trumps Quantity When Sustaining Donor Relationships
Transactional strategies that check items off your “to-do” list won’t build allegiance to your cause. As tempted as you are to spew out countless emails, tweets, Facebook and blog posts to an undiscriminating audience, this alone won’t get you far. Especially if your broadcasts use your corporate voice. For example:
- This is our mission.
- We serve these people.
- We’re building a new website.
- We’re celebrating our 15th anniversary.
That’s all about you. No listening is involved. There’s no human connection.
Personally nurtured donor relationships, however, can result in a steady stream of contributions. Relationship building is a donor-centered activity that includes two core elements: (1) donor-centered communications and (2) donor-centered engagement activities.
5. Loyalty is Built through Understanding Donor Psychology
When you consider why people stay loyal, you can apply that to donor relationship building.
Think about why you stay loyal to your friends. It’s because of what you share, your history, your common values, your experiences together and your ongoing engagement.
Also, and this is important, great relationships are an important element of personal happiness.
The why of loyalty, therefore, includes the happiness factor. When you make donors happy, they tend to want to stick with you. That’s why I constantly harp on the notion that development professionals are fundamentally in the happiness delivery business.
6. Relationships Begin by Establishing a Functional Connection Between Consumers and Your Brand
In fundraising, the consumer is the prospective donor. Your brand is your promise to that donor, and what you can reliably be expected to deliver.
The donor gives you money; you promise to achieve the desired program outcome.
Once this basic level of satisfaction is achieved, you have the opportunity to build the stronger personal connection – and the level of commitment — but going the happiness delivery route. What makes the connection personal is a two-way street of give and take.
7. Relationships Continue by Building Ties Based in Associations, Linkages and Personal, Emotional Involvement
Connections and connecting.
The donor/prospect should know you know them, and you care about connecting with what they care about. As Brian Brown noted 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 you’ll continue to tend to the garden. You will stick with your donors and be their friend and partner, not simply rely on them to be your ATM.
Over time, the little seed of trust will grow into a tree. If you tend the tree well, you can grow many branches onto your tree.
8. Relationship Building is a Discipline that Can Never Stop
Simply having satisfied customers does not mean you can rest on your laurels. Do you still see Coca Cola advertising? Of course! Because a one-time satisfied customer is not necessarily a return customer.
In Why a Satisfied Donor is Not a Retained Donor, Kevin Schulman discusses how relationship theory (emotional and personal) underpins 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, you can’t just influence behaviors; you must influence attitudes to impact retention.
The paradigm shift is from expecting donors to act altruistically to understanding supporters require reciprocal care and feeding.
This means embracing stewardship, and understanding donor acquisition will not meet your long-term sustainability goals absent a focus on donor retention.
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.
Want to Build Stronger Relationships with Mid-Level Donors?
Consider enrolling in the Certification Course in Mid-Level Fundraising. You’ll learn exactly what you need to do, you’ll have support along the way so you don’t procrastinate or push this to the back burner, and within just a few months you’ll become certified as a Veritus Scholar, pick up 36 CFRE credits, and walk away with a detailed, actionable plan and skills you’ll use the rest of your career. Plus it’s stimulating and will re-invigorate your work!
Invest in yourself! Invest in your organization’s future! The upfront cost of this course evaporates with just a handful of upgraded gifts, or one new major donor identified. And after completing the first two modules, a full refund is available if you decide the course doesn’t meet your needs. So, don’t hesitate. You’ll learn all the strategies described in this article, and then some.
Questions? Just hit “reply” to email me with any questions about whether this would be a good fit for you.
Photo: Three San Francisco Hearts: Rainbow, Love, Resilience. Benefit for S.F. General Foundation.