Not relationships VS results – relationships FOR results

Published by Rory Green on

Resultphoto1Why do we fundraise? Is it all about the money? Is it all about the donor? Is it all about the mission?

That’s a tough question – and there isn’t an easy answer.

Every single staff person of your nonprofit serves the mission. As a fundraiser, I serve the mission by raising money. To raise the most money over the long term, I need to focus on maximizing donor relationships. To maximize donor relationships, I need to look at, and draw from, the tested and proven body of knowledge around fund development.

It isn’t relationships VERSUS results, it’s about relationships FOR results.

In her wonderful post, Margaux poses the challenge that “it’s either about relationships or results” and asks “As fundraisers, shouldn’t it be the money that matters?”. She reminds us that relationships aren’t the end in themselves, they are the means to an end – the end is and always needs to be raising money for our beneficiaries.

I completely agree.

Being results oriented at its worst can be short sighted, especially when it is being driven by a non-fundraiser whose vision stops at fiscal year-end. It can put the mission (or worse the organization!)  first – at the expense of the donor. You can stop seeing the people behind the dollars. A focus on transactional giving can leaves long term potential off the table. Key chains and cupcakes have their place, and if they work please use them! Just remember they don’t often lead to transformational gifts (think legacy giving or major donations).

Being relationship oriented also has risks, especially as I often see fundraisers hiding behind the term “donor-centric” as an excuse to NOT ask donors for money. “We mail them too much! We ask too often! We have to be donor centric” – What??!?  These fundraisers are missing the point – asking is an important and essential part of being donor-centric. Asking is not only why we build relationships – it’s a core part of relationship building.

Your donors want to give. They enjoy it. You have no right to cancel money making programs like premium mailings because you don’t like the idea of it. Being donor centric means paying attention to how your donors behave and making smart decisions based on those observations.

You have to believe in your cause, and know that you serve that cause by raising money.

You have to understand that donors want to help. The method of help you are interested in – and THEY are interested in – is giving money.

You have to realize the long term value of a donor when you build a relationship – and look for ways to build that relationship.

For proof that relationships help your bottom line – I look to Tom Ahern, whose donor centric newsletters raise money – crazy money. I look to Chuck Longfield who has proven that “when  phone a new donor who has just given a gift, simply to say ‘Thank you’, nothing more, just ‘thank you’, then their value in subsequent years goes up by 40%” (thanks for that Stephen Pidgeon!). I look to Dr. Adrian Sargeant who has measured and tested the science behind donor retention. All three stand up for the importance of relationship building for results, with powerful tested science backing them up.

I listen to what these fundraisers have to say, not because it sounds nice, but because there is science, research and testing behind the claims results2they make. You have to pay attention to donor behavior. You need to test it and measure it. That data will help you build relationships AND raise more money. You need to value that data and make fact based decisions. But you must also never forget the people behind that data: the human beings, giving to other human beings to make the world a better place.

When I was 14 I lost a friend to leukemia. I think of her often, I wonder who she would be if she was alive today. Would she be travelling? Would she be married? Would she have gone to university? I’ll never know. But I do know this world is dimmer without her light in it. I will never be a researcher, a nurse, or an oncologist. But I can make my own difference in the fight against cancer – by raising money. To do that well, I need to do everything I can to maximize results, by focusing on building good donor relationships.

As fundraisers we have to live in that grey area Margaux described– always testing, asking questions and examining what we are doing. Only then will we raise the money our causes need – from engaged and loyal donors.

Rory Green

Rory Green has been fundraising since the age of 10, when she volunteered to help run her school’s annual Bike-A-Thon for juvenile cancer research. Fundraising became her vocation at 14, when she lost a friend to Leukemia. Rory Green has been in the philanthropic sector for over eight years and is currently the Associate Director, Advancement for the Faculty of Applied Science at Simon Fraser University. Rory has also worked in major and corporate giving at BCIT and the Canadian Cancer Society. Her passion is donors. How to listen to them. How to talk to them. How to help them feel better about themselves through philanthropy than they ever thought possible. In her spare time Rory is the founder and editor of Fundraiser Grrl, the fundraising community’s go-to source for comic relief.


Margaux Smith · April 9, 2014 at 15:32

Love this, Rory! I absolutely agree :)

P.S. I guess it was only fair that one out-of-context quote deserves another ;) Two of the points in your paragraph describing my post were just me describing Jonathon’s post! But I’ll take it. I know we see eye-to-eye :)

Rory · April 9, 2014 at 18:18

I will say, that not every charity needs to focus on relationships. If you are looking to raise some quick money – for a short term project, relationship building may not be a strategic use of your resources. BUT if want to build a constituency of donors to support you in your long term goals, investing in building donor relationships is the right strategy to accomplish that goal.

Isabel · April 9, 2014 at 19:56

My general rule of thumb as a donor is that I will give the fundraiser a chance to make their case. If they sufficiently convince me that they really do care about why I am donating and where I am coming from, then I will make the donation. But you’ve got to put in the work!

Dennis Fischman · April 9, 2014 at 21:05

Wonderful piece, Rory. There are people who wouldn’t hesitate to ask a friend for time, but they clam up when it comes to money. But if you can organize time, you can organize money too.

The fear is that asking a friend for money means putting a distance between you and the friend. Not when I do it! “Andrea, I know you and I both care about ___, Here’s a chance to help move the cause forward in this specific way. Will you give $500 to help?” Knowing that both of us care passionately about the issue and that I trust her to consider making a significant donation can bring us closer.

    Rory · April 9, 2014 at 21:26

    Hi Dennis – thank you for the comment. I couldn’t agree more with what you’ve said. Beliefs are the crazy glue of human kind. When you realize you share the same beliefs as someone else – it bonds you together. Having the shared experience of giving to a cause can strengthen a friendship – when you share the same values and beliefs. Thank you for reminding us all of how wonderful it can be to ask someone to give.

Charity · April 10, 2014 at 05:13

Rory, I completely agree with you!

This was eye-opening for me, and a great reminder that the relationships we build in fundraising are not separate from the mission and goals of an organization to raise funds. In fact, they are EXACTLY how we reach our fundraising goals. Donors are our partners in serving the mission. They are with us and want to be involved and most importantly, as you point out, they want to be asked!

You really offered a great reminder that, from the donors perspective, donating is a powerful way for them to participate and engage in a shared mission and whatever your role may be within the organization, it is essential to understand that the donor wants to know that you understand how their commitment will fit perfectly for them, and show them this in how you ask.

I also love that you note the importance of each member of the organization in accomplishing the mission. ‘Every single staff person of your nonprofit serves the mission’ . Yes!

    Rory Green · April 10, 2014 at 16:32

    Thank you for your comment Charity! Donors should get to feel like they are a part of achieving your mission and making your vision a reality – because they ARE.

Bryan Vadas · April 10, 2014 at 10:26

So true

The true essence of successful and sustainable fund raising is forming a connection and engaging with people.

We promote the same message at iPledg (http://ipledg.com/) when guiding people on how to raise funds through Crowd Funding

    Rory Green · April 10, 2014 at 16:35

    Someone once asked me – think about every donor and don’t ask, how much can they give – but rather “what would it mean to fully engage them and maximize the relationship”.

    Many charities need more than money – they need people to change behaviors (don’t smoke, turn off the lights, buy fair trade products). We need to focus on maximized relationships to achieve that goal.

Charles Onion · April 10, 2014 at 19:15

I appreciate what you have shared. I have been on a few Boards and it has been a continued conversation, and frustrating

    Rory · April 10, 2014 at 19:31


    Thank you for commenting. I’m sorry your experience has been frustrating, but I am glad you are there, having the conversation.
    I would love to know what your experience has been. Are there particular issues you struggle with when it comes to relationships versus results?

Duncan · April 11, 2014 at 10:43

Great article, really enjoy if.

The really crucial bit for me – as you say – is remembering donors want to give. Too often it’s seen as being something that means they have less left to spend on the things they *really* want – when in reality it is what they really want, gives pleasure and makes them happy – all the while doing somethign good for others too.

I’m a fundraiser, but I’m also a donor – and feel great about both.

    Rory Green · April 11, 2014 at 16:50

    Hi Duncan,

    There is a great TED talk (google Michael Norton) – where researchers tested all over the world and found that money CAN buy you happiness – when you spend it helping other people. So much proof exists that helping others and giving makes you happier.

Kate Smith · April 11, 2014 at 11:22

Interesting article. Can’t agree more about relationships being vital in fundraising. What’s interesting is how much more we need to work to develop those relationships these days: http://goo.gl/srpBkB

    Rory Green · April 11, 2014 at 16:51


    You couldn’t be more bang on. Civics gave out of a sense of duty. Relationship building will be more and more essential as baby boomers become the largest giving group.

Carsten Direske · April 15, 2014 at 15:55

From my point of view, fundraising means friendraising, so I agree that relationship and longer term thinking is key. But as fundraisers we have to be open to all kinds of giving. Time, commitment and often expertise, too is a very valuable resource. Not only money. In Germany, 4-6 billion Euros are donated per year. If we paid all hours voluntarily donated just on a minimum wage level that would be some 20 billions Euros worth.
And before talking about money its all about taking people “on board” of our cases, campaigns and missions. And trust. We owe our donors big thanks and transparency what we do with their gifts.

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