Fundraising – It’s About the Relationships

Dr. Brian Monger

Every cause needs people more than money, for when the people are with you and are giving your cause their attention, interest, confidence, advocacy and service, financial support should just about take care of itself; whereas, without them in the right quality and quantity in the right places and the right states of mind and spirit, you might as well go and get lost. –

Designs for Fund-Raising: Principles, Patterns, Techniques

Successful enterprises take care of customers and in fund raising your customers are your donors. Each of your donors has a different reason for supporting your cause and it is your job as a development professional to discern those reasons and then be sure they apply to your organization and that they are being communicated effectively to your donors.

And what is the best way to find out why a donor supports your cause? ASK. I know many organizations who spend thousands of dollars each year on detailed prospect research to find out what motivates donors to give. Now I’m not knocking prospect research – it has its place but it is no substitute for a simple face-to-face conversation between fund raiser and donor. Here are three questions guaranteed to get a conversation off and running:

• How did you first come into contact with our organisation?

• What excites you about what we do?

• What is your vision for our group in the next 3-5 years?

Now you can find your own way to phrase these questions to suit your personal style but note that they address the donor’s history with the organisation, his or her feelings about what the organisation does now and his or her dreams for the organisation’s work in the future. Thoughtful answers to these questions provide you with the information that will help you make an appeal to the donor that has meaning and is likely to be funded.

Some tips about the personal conversation:

Don’t write notes during the meeting. You are not a reporter writing a story for the newspaper. You are a representative of an organisation having a friendly conversation with another who is just as interested on your cause as you are. However, when the meeting is over, record as much detail as you can remember as soon as possible particularly the answers to the three questions above. Also, note the names of people mentioned who are also involved with the organisation.

Meet your donor on his or her own turf: Most of us are more comfortable in our own homes or offices and when we are comfortable we are more likely to speak candidly. Be aware of the surroundings and note the décor, personal items such as family photos, awards and any other features of the setting as you think may be relevant.

Talk about yourself but not too much: You are an insider who (presumably) knows more about the inner workings of the organization than the donor. This is a chance to talk about why you work for the group and to discuss what projects and plans make you excited to be there.

Bring something to leave with the donor: It can be something as simple as a coffee mug with your organisation’s logo or the latest issue of your newsletter hot off the press or a special report on an issue of importance. Keep it simple and not too expensive. Donors want to know their donations are not being spent on frivolous extras.

Agree on follow-up before you leave the meeting: Listen carefully to indications that the donor needs more information or has a question best answered by one of your colleagues. Offer to get answers or to arrange meetings and then do it promptly. This is part of good customer service and will keep a good feeling about you and your organization in the donor’s mind.

Write a thank you note immediately: Hand written and mailed is still best as it shows a level of intimacy not often seen in these days of email and instant messaging. If there is an immediate question, send a response by email and follow it up with a hand-written note.

Keep a file of your contacts with the donor: Your meeting notes, a copy of your follow-up thank you note and any correspondence from the donor should be kept in a folder you can access easily. Many fundraisers are keeping electronic folders these days with scanned copies of personal notes alongside copies of the word documents mailed to the donor.

Keep your boss informed: Be sure that your immediate superior knows about each meeting by sending copies of your notes and/or your thank-you letter. If you are the organization’s CEO be sure your Board chair knows.

Effective fund-raising cannot be done behind a desk. You have to get out of your office and meet those who can make a difference with their financial support. When the time is right to ask for a gift it will be far easier when you have established a long-standing personal relationship with your donor and know just how to make the request so it will be most meaningful to him or her.

To Do List:

1. Make a list of the top ten donors to your organization and make a plan to set up a personal meeting with them in the next month.

2. Pick up the phone and call three donors you have met in the past month or so to see how they are doing and to ask if there are any questions or concerns you can help them with.

3. Write a hand written note to three donors or volunteers who have done something special in the last two weeks.

Dr Brian Monger is Executive Director of MAANZ International and an internationally known consultant with over 45 years of experience assisting both large and small companies with their projects.  He is also a highly effective and experienced trainer and educator

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