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Tips for a Long and Happy Donor Marriage

Lori Halley  22 February 2013  0 comments

You thought you were doing everything right. Saying thank you and keeping the lines of communication open. But now you’re worried your donor isn’t coming back for a second gift. What went wrong?

Although Valentine’s Day is over, I’ve seen a lot of wonderful posts lately about donor love and dating your donors. But to stretch the metaphor a little further, I’d suggest that your relationship with your donor is more like a marriage. Sadly, the statistics bear this out – with 40-50% of marriages in the U.S. ending in divorce, and from 50-70% of donors leaving after their first gift. So how can your nonprofit try to beat those odds?  

How healthy is your donor relationship?

While not a fundraising expert, I do know a bit about marriage since I’ve been married for more than 20 years. I’ve also worked with counsellors in developing resource materials to help individuals cope with personal challenges, including relationship issues.  So I looked through a Building Healthy Relationships kit that I worked on a few years back, to see if there was some insight that might be applied to the donor relationship. The first resource was an assessment to see how healthy your relationship may be. For fun, here are some of the points that were on the checklist and my interpretation on how these might apply to your donor relationship. 

Relationship quiz: 

Are you... 

  • Keeping the lines of communication open? – You may be sending your donors emails or newsletters, but are you providing channels for them to respond?  This might include having a forum or another type of online community or via social media.
  • Are you listening? When it comes to your donors, are you really paying attention to what they are telling you?  
  • Demonstrating your affection? You’ve heard it before – you need to use emotion to really connect with your donors. You can demonstrate by telling touching stories or make them feel part of things through poignant videos.
  • Complimenting your partner? We all love to receive sincere compliments, so tell your donor how great they are.
  • Setting aside time to discuss things that are important? Are you sharing enough information with donors?  Is there a project update, a study or other important issues that your organization could be sharing and discussing with donors?
  • Getting together, going on dates? Are you inviting donors to events or open-houses to show them first-hand how their support has made a difference? Remember that not every invitation should be another request for support – just show the love. 

Tips for maintaining a strong donor-nonprofit marriage

Once you assess the state of your relationship, you can work towards getting it or keeping it on track. Here are a few of the relationship tips from the resource kit that might apply to your donor partnership.

  • Don’t take your partner for granted – don’t ignore your donor once they’ve made a yearly contribution, but on the other hand, don’t turn them off with countless email reminders and requests.
  • Express and show your love and commitment – offer heartfelt, personal thank-you's
  • Keep your relationship exciting – make sure you share progress with your donors and demonstrate with effective videos, newsletters, etc.
  • Tell your partner how you’re feeling  – as noted above, emotion is powerful, so be sure  your communications stir your donor's emotions.
  • Remember it takes two, but it can begin with you – one partner in this relationship has to take the lead, so sweep your donor off his or her feet!

Maintaining a strong donor relationship is much like trying to keep your love alive for a happy marriage - neither partner should take each other for granted. And it takes commitment, a lot of work and open, honest communications.


Image sourceCome back - courtesy of BigStockPhoto.com

Lori Halley

Posted by Lori Halley

Published Friday, 22 February 2013 at 8:30 AM
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