During the season-long singing competition, American Idol does a spectacular job of building a relationship between the contestants and the American viewing public. Even as a casual, part-time viewer of the show, many similarities to the charity/donor relationship seemed to jump out. After all, isn’t relationship-building a primary goal of every nonprofit?

How American Idol Builds the Relationship

Throughout the entire season, we are connected to the top American Idol contestants through a wide variety of situations and interactions. Here are a few that come to mind:

  • The opening audition with conversation between the judges and the contestants
  • The contestants being shown interacting with each other
  • The background stories of contestants based upon their journey to the audition
  • The contestants performing as a group
  • The contestants being voted upon by the viewing audience
  • The rehearsal scenes and interactions
  • The later performances
  • The later interactions with the judges
  • The releasing of press releases about the contestants
  • Contestant interviews away from the show

Notice how each one plays a part in building a relationship with the American public. The viewing audience truly feels like they are beginning to know the top contestants personally, especially since the show takes the time to get to know their backgrounds, hopes and dreams. It’s likely that the show would not be as successful without all of this behind-the-scenes footage. By the end of the season, not only have relationships been built, but American Idol has literally created huge demand for their next star(s)!

American Idol

How Fundraisers Can Build a Relationship

Let’s use the example of prospective donors finding out about us by being invited as a guest to an event. Listed below are similar relationship building steps that might ensue:

  • The fundraising team has the chance to interact with the prospective donors in a group setting at the event
  • The prospective donors have the opportunity to meet and talk with previous donors and long time supporters of the NPO
  • Individual conversions can take place at the event
  • The follow-up thank you communications can be personalized and perhaps involve the person(s) who connected them to the event
  • A phone call or personal visit can happen after the event
  • Information can continue to flow via your newsletter
  • You can find out the prospective donor’s opinion via a short survey
  • The prospective donor can be invited to attend a lunch or dinner with a much smaller group

Relationship-Building Leads to Success

In both cases, the relationship-building takes place over time and through a variety of situations. Notice how each step provides even more opportunity for better understanding of where each party is coming from. This allows for trust to be built and for knowledge of your mission to be understood.

My favorite part of this comparison is that in most cases the various steps do lead to strong relationships being built. So, whether you are selling concert tickets or soliciting for a major gift, the greatest success almost always stems from the best relationships!

If you are in the nonprofit world, I am betting you just might watch a few episodes of American Idol in 2014 with a different point of view.

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.