A donor relationship is not a trick

Published by Reinier Spruit on

Amanda Palmer at #IFC2016 (Photo: The Resource Alliance)

Rockstar Amanda Palmer said it in the opening plenary of the #IFC2016 : “A relationship is not a trick“. And it came back to me throughout the conference. The best donor relations are based on authenticity and reciprocity. If that’s our goal and we take a closer look at our fundraising results in recent years, we have to start asking the right questions. To be more precise: we need to question everything we do.

It’s our job as fundraisers to build long lasting relationships with our donors. And I think that if you were a sensible fundraiser you’d actually like to treat your ‘small’ donors the same as your major donors. You’d talk to them, personalize everything you send them, take time to listen and acknowledge their existence and contribution. You’d go the distance for them. But then practical barriers often surface. Because we can’t talk to everyone personally. And we could never grant everyone’s wishes or preferences. Or could we? Should we?

This is exactly the tension in the spectrum of mass marketing versus 1-on-1 relationship management. How much effort, energy, time and money can we put in, compared to what comes out? If you’re small you have an eye for every donor. Because you’re still human, and say thanks when you receive a gift. But somewhere along the way where you’ve expanded your organization you’ve made weird choices. You are not thanking every donor anymore, because it costs too much. Ouch. You’ve lost it somewhere. That authenticity where you were more concerned with the donor’s wellbeing. But I can understand that if you have thousands of donors you can’t keep up what you did when you just started. Or could we? Should we?

Yes, we could and we should. We can listen to everyone. We can even have a dialogue, but we need to be smarter. We can let new techniques work for us. We can invest more in personal contact, because it shows that it pays off. We can be considerate to preferences and wishes, because we know the long-term impact is valuable. We can invest much more in the experiences we give to our donors. It’s all about how we make them feel. We can thank donors much more, more often and more genuine. The long-term effect will be amazing, and we can see that if we look at the data. I’m convinced. Are you? Why not?

As Professor Jen Shang explained it this week at the IFC: we need to meet fundamental human needs:

Donors need to feel that they are good at offering their love to others. Donors need to feel they have a degree of autonomy in how they offer that love. Donors need to feel a genuine connectedness with the object of their love.”

My main take-away from the IFC? Ask the right questions. Question everything you do. Even the obvious. But if rockstars and professors agree, just take their advice and go.

Hope to see you at #IFC2017!

Reinier Spruit

Reinier Spruit

Reinier is in love with fundraising since 2001. Ever since he's trying to improve his own fundraising skills and those of others. He's one of the original founders of 101fundraising. At the moment working with amazing clients through his one-man fundraising consultancy. Loves running and baseball.


Richard Turner · October 22, 2016 at 15:11

Yes we should and yes we can. And the strategic reason is so simple – your supporters are your most valuable channel now. And in this increasingly connected world you do not know who they know. So to leverage their social capital we need to inspire them not see how far we can push them up the donor pyramid and “upgrade” them. Adopting the mindset you advocate will raise more money for your mission as people who have a good experience will talk about it. Inspire them to spread your story and the magic starts to happen. Believe me (although I’m not a professor) it works. There is now no excuse.

    Reinier Spruit

    Reinier Spruit · October 23, 2016 at 19:35

    Thanks Richard! Great finally meeting you in real life at #IFC2016! Is it time to get rid of the pyramid? I feel a new blog coming up…

Simone Joyaux · October 22, 2016 at 17:55

Wonderful piece, Reinier. And so is your own blog about Kumi and justice. Best, Simone

Cornelis van den Hoeven · October 22, 2016 at 18:06

I agree. And more:: Just make it very convenient for your donors and make them feel good. At the end though, it is abour the change and the impact you make on the ground, and donors are one mean to achieve this. So think open, be bright, personal and true to yourself and your cause.

Barry Gower · October 23, 2016 at 19:22

>> “It’s our job as fundraisers to build long lasting relationships with our donors.”

I would have thought that as a fundraisers, its your job to raise money – after all, the clue’s in the name. Maybe building a relationship is one of the tools or methods used to fund raise. However, although both would be ideal, if you could have relationship but no money, or money but no relationship, what would chose?

    Reinier Spruit

    Reinier Spruit · October 23, 2016 at 20:05

    Hi Barry, thanks for your comment. Great question!

    I think in the past too many of us have chosen for “money, but no relationship”. That was very successful, because the donors that we lost, could simply be replaced with new ones. But now acquiring new donors gets more difficult every year, results are going down. The focus has shifted to retaining donors, and much more on the relationship. Which we should have done much earlier in my humble opinion. Imagine how much money would have been raised if this mindset was adopted earlier…

    I think the point is that there is no doubt what so ever that money will follow from the relationship. Where “money, but no relationship” is possible, I don’t think “relationship, but no money” is a real option.

    What do you think?

      Richard Turner · October 23, 2016 at 22:05

      “Relationship but no money” doesn’t mean no money now. If someone is inspired enough to tell their network and so use their ‘social capital’ it can mean money and more. More because if you are clear on your mission people and organisations can do far more than just give money.

Nyange Musombo Chirac · October 25, 2016 at 00:04

I really appreciate this is wonderful. Great and i encourage you. Best regard

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