Any nonprofit that relies on fundraising dollars for a major portion of their budget must also have multiple staff members who are comfortable with various aspects of the fundraising process. Anything less than total participation and maximum enthusiasm will be spotted by potential donors.

Far too often, most people discuss fundraising with terms and phrases that scare other members of their team – words like prospecting, asking, appealing, cultivating, stewarding, etc. This is usually not intentional. However, the result is still the same: we scare people out of the first crucial step of fundraising – building relationships!

Two FriendsRelationship-building is the essence of fundraising. Every single member of your team already knows how to build relationships; with friends, co-workers and family members. Magic happens when we encourage that same kind of behavior with all of our prospects and donors.

Keep in mind where most first impressions come from when any prospect or donor “touches” your organization. They have little to do with any of the scary words I mentioned above.

Among them are:

  • Answering the phone
  • Greeting someone when they visit your office
  • Greeting someone at any special event
  • Interacting with volunteers
  • Interacting on social media

All of these critical first touches set the tone of whether anyone wants to further build a relationship with our organization or not! Lose them here at step one and they are never brought back into the fold in nearly every case.

Should we rename fundraising?

Consider placing a moratorium on “fundraising” and instead only using “relationship-building.” Doesn’t it just sound much friendlier?

The organizations which excel at relationship-building rarely have to worry about fundraising. Strong relationships lead to most, if not all, of the following absolutely critical steps to fundraising success:

  • People genuinely wanting to be with your team
  • Stewardship of others
  • Excitement about your meetings and events
  • Long periods of consecutive giving
  • Increasingly larger annual giving
  • Interest in volunteering
  • Sharing of communications with others
  • Legacy giving

Could your organization live without any of these?

Anything in life we can make less complicated is, in nearly ever case, an improvement. By renaming “fundraising” to the less onerous “relationship-building” you can empower your team in a whole new way.

Relationship-building leads to increased retention and major gifts success

If you are building or enhancing relationships with your donors, you are literally moving ahead two vital strategies for fundraising success in the long term.

First, you and your team are improving donor retention. This is essential, because if a donor is not maintained from year to year, it is nearly impossible to facilitate the knowledge and engagement levels needed to upgrade their giving to a major gift level.

Secondly, multiple years of being retained allows all of the factors necessary for a major gift to come to fruition for a donor. Just think of what can happen during year after year of giving. Here are a few:

  • Trust
  • Passion
  • Stewardship
  • Involvement
  • Knowledge
  • Engagement

Which one or two would you like to not have in place when you make your next major gift ask? I am guessing not a single one!

Become a maven

Maven; a trusted expert in a particular field, who seeks to pass knowledge to others.

You already have relationship-building mavens within your organization. You just have to put it into practice with your prospective donors.

If one strives to become or even feel like an expert in this area, think how much stronger the overall fundraising effort will be. Being able to pass suggestions and hints to others in their department will move the progress in relationship-building along so much faster!

How important is relationship-building to your organization? Please let me and others know via the comment area below. Perhaps we can start a new trend and move annual giving to charitable organizations to a whole new level!

Major gift fundraising

Jay Love

Jay Love

Co-Founder & Chief Relationship Officer at Bloomerang
A 30+ veteran of the nonprofit software industry, Jay Love co-founded Bloomerang in 2012. Prior to Bloomerang, he was the CEO and Co-Founder of eTapestry for 11 years, which at the time was the leading SaaS technology company serving the charity sector. Jay and his team grew the company to more than 10,000 nonprofit clients, charting a decade of record growth. Prior to starting eTapestry, Jay served 14 years as President and CEO of Master Software Corporation. MSC provided a widely used family of database products for the non-profit sector called Fund-Master. He currently serves on the board of the Center on Philanthropy at Indiana University and is the past AFP Ethics Committee Chairman. Jay is also the author of Stay Together: How to Encourage a Lifetime of Donor Loyalty.