Unless you’ve been under a rock, you know that relationships with donors are the key to long-term fundraising success.But if you’re like many, you just aren’t sure how to build those all-important relationships. Maybe you don’t know where to start. Or maybe you’re worried it’ll feel manipulative.It’s not rocket science by any stretch. It’s about being considerate and polite. And it’s about building the relationship on purpose.We’re all used to the way relationships naturally grow. Think about people you are close to. How did you meet? What did you do early in the relationship?

It seems to get weird when we’re doing it on purpose. But it doesn’t have to be.
Remember that you’re helping draw people closer to your nonprofit so they can be a bigger part of the work you’re doing to change lives. That’s all. As long as your intention is honorable, you have no reason to feel wonky about getting to know your donors.

The most successful nonprofits are the ones who have figured this out, and are working to engage their donors. I know you can do this, too.

Here are some of my best tips to build those critical donor relationships.

  • Focus on the right people.    Not everyone is your donor. Not everyone cares about your cause. If you try to build a relationship with someone who isn’t ideal, you’ll never see the results you really want. So spend time with people who are the best donors for your nonprofit and whose interests match your organization’s mission.
  • Don’t try to get married on the first date. Relationships take time to develop. People who come on too strong too early in the relationship are usually labeled “creepy.” Get to know your donor first before you ask her for a big commitment like giving you a chunk of money.
  • Build the Know, Like, and Trust factor. Help your donors and donor prospects get to know you and your nonprofit. Give them reasons to like you and what you’re doing. Share your dreams and vision, and why they matter. Then do everything you can to build trust, from giving and keeping your word, to showing you can manage money well. People give where they believe their money will be used wisely. No one gives to a cause they don’t like or trust.
  • Value the relationship over money. Don’t focus so much on the money that it becomes the driving force. People have built-in radar that goes on alert when someone isn’t genuinely interested in them. If you focus too much on the money, you’ll trigger that radar and then your chance at developing a lasting relationship is over. Think about it this way. If someone gives you a donation, you get money. This one time. If someone really cares about your nonprofit’s work and they want to partner with you, they’ll give again and again, and even put up with a fair amount of crap from you, because they care about the ultimate outcome of changing lives.
  • Build relationships 1-to-many whenever you can.  It isn’t always feasible to get face-to-face with every donor. So it’s critical that you build relationships through your newsletter, social media, and anywhere else you can communicate in a mass way. However, you have to do it right. Make sure that whatever you share in those tools is relevant to the reader, meaningful, and full of emotion. And make it worthy of sharing. Otherwise, it’s dry and boring and you’ll turn them off faster than you can say ‘donor retention.’
  • Focus on them, not you. There’s a saying that “people don’t care how much you know until they know how much you care” and it’s absolutely true in fundraising. Don’t talk about your organization. Instead, talk about the lives you are changing and why it’s important. Nonprofit materials and social media that are all focused on “we” and “us” aren’t engaging or interesting.

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