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People Want To Belong To Your Nonprofit's Community

Building Bridges Between Volunteers And Donors
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The Essence of Community in Philanthropy

A wise boss once told me: “A community is defined by caring for its members. Otherwise, it’s just a zip code.

I never forgot this.

One of the things you are responsible for as a development professional is building and nurturing community.

Let’s Define Your Community

Since your mission is to facilitate philanthropy in order to move your mission forward, let’s talk about your philanthropic community – the donors, volunteers, advocates and ambassadors who fuel your work, making your impact the greatest it can be.

Cultivating Value Through Donor Engagement

The opportunity to make the world a better place is the promise all social benefit organizations offer to deliver. People have different values (some want to help children; others animals; others education, the environment, the arts… and so on). Within the values universe, it’s your job to convey where you sit/what you do/why what you do is necessary/and that you’re effective doing it. Your next job is to uncover folks who share the values your organization enacts. This is what is commonly called “development.” Finally, once a good common ground is found, you make the match! You ask for the investment that will assure the values are enacted and the donor’s passions are fulfilled.

An Under-Appreciated Part of the Philanthropic Value Exchange is the Relational One

It’s the friend-raising and ongoing nurturing part of the fundraising equation. Friend-raising is about crafting a donor-centered journey that predisposes folks to want to give, and keep on giving. But it’s more than individual “cultivation” or “stewardship.” Where else might this predisposition to give come from?

Enhancing Donor Relationships through Community Building

Value is Enhanced Through Community-Building. People join a religious congregation, PTA, sorority, book group, political or social movement, any number of meet-ups and, yes, your philanthropic community, because it brings them something they seek. On an individual level, this can be any number of different things, which is why it pays to get to know your donors as much as you can. The more you know people, the more you can help facilitate the journey that gives them the most meaning.

Fundraisers are in the “Happiness Delivery Business”

Let’s begin on the individual donor level. I write a lot about the “warm glow” people experience when they contemplate giving. And how you should never feel bad about asking someone for a philanthropic gift, because it delivers a shot of dopamine that lights up the pleasure center of their brains. Alas, this feeling is short-lived. So, you need to do more. Which is where building donor love and loyalty plans comes in. Again, so far so good. Maybe you can “nurture” people into continuing to give.

Belonging, and Giving, are Bonding, Joyful Experiences

Part of what makes people feel they belong to your community is the joining with others to pursue common values. The THNK School of Creative Leadership states: “The magic of the community is in the shared act. Community members find each other, work together, support each other, and achieve success together. This is the joy of doing meaningful work together with like-minded people, with your friends.” When values are shared, they gain power and traction, leading to: Sharing with others – extending your network, Influencing others – extending your fundraising, Collective engagement – extending the scope of your impact.

Strategies for Effective Donor-Centric Community Engagement

This is where you must put on both your donor-centered and community building hats. Perhaps survey your supporters to find out what types of communal events they might enjoy. What might feed their souls, build social capital, enable people to connect and help them stay in contact?

Know that “out of sight is out of mind,” so your job is to develop strategies to bring people together. This will solidify and amplify the knowledge, beliefs, values and traditions you all share. [Note: All of these community-builders can be hosted on-site or online.]

  • Town halls
  • Panels with Q & A’s
  • Behind the scenes tours
  • Open houses
  • Office hours to solicit member input
  • Brown bag lunches
  • Free, social and/or volunteer events

What are you doing, specifically, to bring people with common values together?

People Want to Be With You, Not For You

Too often nonprofits treat donors like gumballs; chew ‘em up, spit ‘em out. As if they exist to do you a service, nothing more. This transactional approach to philanthropy facilitation won’t move the needle on solving your overarching problem or achieving your ultimate vision.

When you include supporters as part and parcel of your transformational work, then something magical can truly occur. You just need to offer the opportunities, and the tools.

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