All of us know that fundraising is about building relationships – and relationships aren’t built easily.

To build and maintain donor relationships, it has to take priority in your weekly or monthly schedule of activities as a fundraising professional. Regular and consistent major donor outreach needs to be scheduled on your calendar, just like any other activity, such as meeting grant submission deadlines, newsletter publication deadlines, or creating your regular social media or email marketing content. The biggest mistake you can make is to send out solicitation letters a few times a year, receive the donations, then never thank or reach out to your donors personally other than to send them the standard IRS letter after their gift. That’s like treating your donors like ATM machines.

None of us want them to feel that way, right? We wouldn’t want a nonprofit to treat us that way when we make a donation, would we?

Building relationships with donors needs to be an ongoing process to keep them engaged and giving again and again. How can we do this? By getting to know your donors, particularly your major donors, in a very deep way, and gathering lots of information about them.

“But I don’t have this information,” you say? If you don’t have this information, then you can’t go any further to create an individualized donor moves management plan until you gather the information.

The best way to gather this information is through a face-to-face meeting. Ask to meet with the donor over coffee, or for a brief appointment to meet at their workplace or home. Let them know this is a “get to know you better” meeting. Don’t ask for a gift during this visit, just be prepared to take notes and ask a lot of questions. Let the conversation naturally flow back to the work your nonprofit performs, but the focus of the meeting isn’t on your work, it’s on the donor. Let the donor do most of the talking. You might be surprised that the donor has a hobby or interest that you didn’t know about, enjoys being in the role of a mentor, or any number of things that could give you clues as to how to approach them for future gifts.

Another important part of this meeting should be an update on how their last gift was used and any other future plans you can share about what’s going on in the program the donor has supported.  You can even ask the donor for advice. Remember the old fundraiser’s saying, “Ask for advice and you’ll get money, ask for money and you’ll get advice.”  I’m not saying to ask for advice to get money during this visit, but asking for advice will help you better craft a future ask.

The key to building relationships with donors isn’t to TELL them about your work; it’s LISTENING to the donor and getting to know them and what motivates them to support your work. Armed with that information, you can match the donor’s interests to your work and offer them a variety of ways to make a difference.

So, create your donor moves management plan to stay in touch with donors between their gifts, and you will keep them motivated and engaged and giving again and again.

As part of Bloomerang’s Content Donation Program, $100 was donated to The Tree House.

gift acknowledgment program

Ayda Sanver
Ayda Sanver, MBA, CFRE is the publisher of The Small Shop Blog at, a weekly blog dedicated to helping small to medium-sized nonprofit organizations improve board and staff fundraising effectiveness. She is author of “Tag, You’re It- Now Raise Us Some Money- Lessons from the Small Shop Blog,” available on