6 Ways to Get More Donors by Building Better Relationships

Relationship Capital Is One More Asset Nonprofits Should Nurture

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Is relationship management part of your fundraising strategy?. Caiaimage/Sam Edwards/Getty Images

Building a nonprofit isn’t easy. It takes funding, vision and—most importantly—relationships.

More than any other industry, nonprofits thrive on connections. After all, making a positive impact requires nonprofits to tap into human emotions. If you’re ready to grow your organization, start by crafting authentic, two-way relationships. Here are six ways to do just that.

1. Donor acquisition

It's the lifeblood of any organization, and there’s no better way to keep that blood pumping than by generating referrals from existing donors.

A 2014 study by The Center for Effective Philanthropy found that 86 percent of donors would gladly recommend an organization to a friend or colleague. Additionally, 21 percent of donors said they learned about their organization from a friend, existing donor or volunteer.

According to the study, the key to generating referrals is donor satisfaction. That, the study notes, is based on responsiveness and impact. How helpful is the organization to its stakeholders and does it make a difference in its community?

In short, donors want to feel as though they have a real relationship with your charity. Keep communication lines open, reach out often, and donors may become your best acquisition tool.

2. Donor Retention

Donor satisfaction doesn’t just determine your ability to generate referrals. It’s a critical factor in retaining donors, as well. Much of that satisfaction comes from engaging—directly and often—with them.

That doesn't mean constant email blasts. A well-constructed, donor-centric campaign can activate your base and keep your organization top of mind.

For example, charity: water's birthday campaign, in which participants ask for donations to the organization instead of birthday gifts has become an iconic example of how to energize donors to work for their favorite cause.

It works because donors decide who they reach out to and what story to tell. Donors thus own the mission on a  personal level.

Empowerment and storytelling are both excellent ways to lay the foundation for a lifelong relationship. Nurturing that relationship by reporting back frequently with campaign results shows accountability and transparency. All of that purposeful attention leads to increased donor satisfaction and, ultimately, retention.

3. Building Your Board

Establishing the board for your nonprofit isn’t just about looking for experience and expertise. It’s also about relationship capital—the network of connections accomplished professionals accumulate over their careers. Who do potential board members know? Who can they bring into your organization as a major donor or strategic advisor? Who do they know who can amplify your message?

Of course, you can't tap into their networks if you haven't built healthy relationships with them in the first place. Again, reciprocity is essential. Boards need to be passionate about your cause and feel valued, so keep talking to them about your goals and solicit their advice often.

4. Event Attendees and Speakers

When it comes to relationship building, there’s no substitute for face-to-face interaction.

For most nonprofits, the best opportunity to score face-time is at live events.

Whether it’s a silent auction, an awards gala or just a casual meet-up, make your donors, speakers, and their guests feel like a part of a larger family. Ask your board members to circulate and make contact with attendees, and make sure your employees and volunteers are prepared to establish real connections.

5. Strategic Partnerships

Like building a board, your organization’s ability to develop strategic partnerships is highly dependent on who you know (and who they know). Cultivate the kind of relationships that lead to successful strategic partnerships. Think high-level executives, who might open the door to corporate gifts and sponsorships, and other investors such as foundations that might provide grants.

That kind of relationship building requires two things: transparency and relevance.

Start with transparency. Make board minutes readily available to donors and investors. Do the same with executive compensation and, most importantly, explain exactly how you use donations to address your mission.

Once you’ve made that information available, listen to potential partners’ concerns and goals. Explain how this relationship makes sense for their organization and make sure they feel like the deal will be reciprocal.

6. Campaign Awareness

Social media is one of the most useful tools for growing your donor base. Donors and advocates who feel a legitimate connection with your organization can spread your message through social media and help you reach entirely new audiences. 

The video for Alex’s Lemonade Stand Foundation is a perfect example of how nonprofits can use the power of social to reach new audiences and build new relationships. It’s succinct, honest, and filled with subtle emotional appeals.  Easy to share, the video has helped the Foundation reach countless potential donors.

The Takeaway

Human emotion fuels the nonprofit world. To make your organization as successful as possible, do your best to create legitimate, mutually beneficial relationships with all of your stakeholders, but especially your donors and board members.

Josh Mait is chief marketing officer at Relationship Science LLC (RelSci). He is a pioneer in the emerging field of relationship capital. Check out his bio for more about him, the company he works for, and how nonprofits can make the most of their relationships.