Fundraising Should be About Building Relationships, Not Making a Transaction

Why does making a donation often feel like a transaction? Organizations get so caught up in the raising money part, that they forget about building relationships with their donors.

Yes, relationships! This is just as important as raising money. 

It’s hard to keep raising money if you don’t build a good relationship with your donors. The two go together. Every single interaction with your donors needs to focus on building relationships. That includes fundraising appeals. It’s possible to raise money and build relationships at the same time.

You’ll have more success if you move away from transactional fundraising and focus on building relationships. Here are some suggestions.

Stop using transactional language

First, the word transaction should not appear anywhere in your fundraising. Sometimes I see the words “Transaction complete” after I make an online donation. That’s not giving me a nice, warm, fuzzy feeling at all. I made a gift, not a transaction.

Even more prevalent is the word receipt, which is often used in lieu of thank you. After a donor makes a gift, they should feel appreciated. 

An email subject line is one of your first chances to connect with your donor. How would you feel if this is what you saw? 

“Your Recurring Donation Receipt” 

“Donation tax receipt”

This again is emphasizing the transaction. Payment information should not be the lead of any type of thank you. Where are the words thank you?

It’s not easy to find good thank you email subject lines. Here are some that are better.

“Thank you for your generous monthly gift”

“You are wonderful!”

“Your monthly gift in action” 

That last subject line leads into an email that emphasizes how the donor is helping that organization make a difference, which is a good example of building relationships.

When organizations lead their fundraising appeals by saying “It’s our annual appeal” or “It’s GivingTuesday,” they’re not connecting with their donors by concentrating on why donors give. 

Many donors don’t care that it’s your year-end appeal. They care about your work and want to help. Instead, say something like, How you can help families put food on the table. 

Make relationship building part of your fundraising campaigns

You need to build relationships before, during, and after each of your fundraising campaigns.

Before your next appeal, send your donors an update to let them know how they’re helping you make a difference. This is especially important if you do more than one fundraising campaign a year. You don’t want your donors to think the only time they hear from you is when you’re asking for money.

Segment your donors

One way to help ensure you’re focusing on relationships is to segment your donors and personalize your appeal letters and other types of donor communication. 

Don’t send the same appeal to everyone on your mailing list. What is your relationship with these individuals? Maybe they’ve given once or many times. Perhaps they’re event attendees, volunteers, e-newsletter subscribers, or friends of board members. Mention your relationship in your appeal letter. For example, thank a long-time donor for supporting you these past five years.

Monthly donors get their own appeal letter. This doesn’t happen enough and it’s one of my biggest pet peeves. Build relationships with these committed donors. Recognize they’re monthly donors and either invite them to upgrade their gift or give an additional donation.

Make This the Year You Segment Your Donors

Create an attitude of gratitude

Your focus on building relationships continues when you thank your donors. Many organizations do a poor job with this. Send a handwritten note or make a phone call, if you can.

Welcome your new donors. Let them know how much you appreciate this new relationship. If you don’t, it’s likely to be a short relationship.

Be sure to also shower your current donors with love to keep your relationship going. Do something special for donors who have supported you for several years.

Make sure your donors get a heartfelt thank you, not something that resembles a receipt.

Thanking donors is something you can do at any time of the year. I think one of the best ways to connect is by sending a handwritten note. It always warms my heart when an organization does this.

Holiday cards are a nice way to reach out, but don’t put a donation envelope in one. You have other opportunities to make appeals. Make it 100% about showing appreciation.

You can also send thank you cards at other times of the year. If money is tight, spread out your mailings over the year so each donor gets at least one card.

Don’t miss out on opportunities to build relationships

There are many ways you can build relationships with your donors throughout the year. 

You can give donors other opportunities to connect, such as volunteering, participating in advocacy alerts, and signing up for your newsletter. Done well, a newsletter or another form of an update is a good relationship-building tool. You could also offer virtual tours or Zoom discussions.

I’m amazed that after I attend an event, support someone in a walkathon, or give a memorial gift, most organizations don’t do a good job of building a relationship. I could be a potential long-time donor. Personally, I would never give a memorial gift or support someone in a charity walk if I didn’t believe in that organization’s cause. Don’t miss out on a potential opportunity to build longer-term relationships.

Have a relationship-building day

My main objection to giving days, such as GivingTuesday, is they focus so much on asking. What if we put all the time and energy we focus on giving days into a relationship-building day?

I’m not saying you can’t participate in giving days, but instead of the relentless begging, follow the formula above and build relationships before, during, and after your appeal.

Of course, you could choose not to participate in a giving day and have an all-out relationship-building day instead.

Giving Tuesday: What if it was called Living Schmoozeday?

Build relationships all year round

It’s easier to stay focused on donors when you’re sending an appeal or thank you, but this is just the beginning. Many organizations go on communication hiatus at certain times of the year and that’s a huge mistake. Ideally, you should keep in touch with your donors every one to two weeks, once a month at the most.

Stay focused on relationships. Good relationships with your donors will help you raise more money and keep your donors for a long time. 

9 Ways to Build Strong Donor Relationships

4 Relationship-Building Strategies for Nonprofits to Know

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