The Nonprofit Marketing Blog

More! Build Stronger Donor Relationships Right Now: Ideas from Fellow Fundraisers, Part 2

Read Part 1 here


Have two minutes? Please tell us what you’re doing to strengthen donor relationships and/or what’s in your way. Thanks!

You have some fantastic fundraiser peers. Kudos to all of you who generously shared your path to stronger donor relationships or boldly put out there what’s getting in your way!

Here’s how one fundraiser is switching it up to build stronger donor relationships:

Investing the time to nurture personal relationships with key donors.

“I’m going to take a larger role in our major donor program by developing [stronger] personal relationships. I hope to start meeting with several of them one-to-one in the next few months to get to know them better [and to] learn about their interests and why they support our organization so generously.”

—Kathleen Kennedy, program and development coordinator, Coalition for Sonoran Desert Protection

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Growing a personal relationship with the donors who count most—whether it’s you, a colleague, or board member who develops it—is vital to keeping them close. It’s one of the key components of your ongoing stewardship process.

Keep in mind that “counts most” can mean either just existing major donors or other folks you feel have the potential to get there, like midlevel donors on the cusp.

Face-to-face visits are most effective. But make sure you find other meaningful ways (to those donors, not you) to stay in touch between the personal calls or visits. Stewardship isn’t a “once and done” project.

Log what it takes time-wise, plus any expenses, for your personal relationship building agenda. Then use that data, plus anecdotal outcomes, to gain leadership support to allocate your time and budget here. Everything takes time, and when you do something new, that takes time away from something else. Be prepared to make your case!

Here’s the greatest challenge this fundraiser faces in strengthening donor relationships:

I just can’t get close to donors anymore, especially the most important ones.


“So many high-capacity donors are making themselves inaccessible—much more so today than 10 years ago. They won’t take a meeting (“I’m just fine without seeing you in person”), they use donor-advised funds, or they hide behind unlisted phone numbers and assistants. They still give, but on their terms alone.”

—Mimi Evans, regional development director, Catholic Relief Services

Mimi, you’re right. Donors, high capacity and otherwise, are tired of being pummeled with content and asks and of the lack of privacy. So, like the rest of us, they’ve found ways to keep themselves sane.

Here are four recommendations for you:

  1. Accept that some high-capacity donors don’t want high touch.
  2. Stop trying to cross the moat to these donors. That’s bound to alienate them big-time rather than bring them closer. “Their terms” are your terms. Listen, learn, and respect what they want.
  3. Find a bridge. Look around and see who in your organization, including board members, knows each high-capacity donor—as a friend, colleague, or fellow community member. There’s a far better chance they’ll be able to make a visit or a call than you will. Train and support them to up the chances of a productive conversation.
  4. Try something completely different. Gail Perry’s “surprise and delight” method of donor cultivation has huge potential. It’s too late for Valentine’s Day, but how about a “Welcome to Spring” card or an invitation to a behind-the-scenes tour, if that’s important to a certain donor? Definitely worth a try!

What are your recommendations for Mimi? Please share your ideas in the comments section.

Read Part 1 here

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About This Blog

Linda Lombardi

We’re here to help you win hearts and minds—and donations.

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