Dating your Donors, Part 4: Defining the Relationship

Defining the relationship might be even scarier than the first date.  Some are happy to let the relationship flow naturally, others can’t just ‘be’ in it, but have to discuss it all the time. You know which side you’re on. When it comes to the relationship between the donor and the organization, it’s imperative, for both sides, to know where you stand.

Who are 'we'? (Courtesy of mtsofan)

What are ‘we’?

A person is never just a ‘donor’.  If they support your organization then they also fall into several other categories (unless and until you or they have made the decision that they don’t) including potential volunteer, peer-to-peer fundraiser, major gift prospect, planned gift prospect, prospective board member, prospective committee member, etc.  A good fundraiser is always looking to appropriately enhance the relationship. Defining the relationship also allows you to communicate with them more efficiently and effectively.  Your database system should have a way for you to categorize people & entities so they can progress along defined experience tracks.  Make sure those systems are functioning and used to your advantage.

Seeing other people

One of the best things to learn about someone is their other giving practices.  “You’re my top charity by far” is much different than “you’re one of about a dozen I support”.  Both give your relationship some definition.  Both mean that stewardship is crucially important but the first may lend itself to volunteer positions, testimonials or strong peer-to-peer efforts.  The second means you need to put some effort into making sure the person values what the organization does and communicate those results so you stay on (or even move up) the list.

When to break up

So it’s that moment that you both know might be coming but neither want to admit.  Do you give it one last try? Or let it shrivel and die so you both can move on?  A break up between a donor and an organization is hard for both.  You’ve both invested time, energy, emotion and money.  When is it time to move on?

Adrian Sargeant at the Center on Philanthropy at Indiana University maintains a ‘donor life cycle’ is around 5-7 years.  If most established organizations run their data, they’ll find an overwhelming number of their ‘committed’ donors lapse during that time. It’s in that period where you need a new ‘DTR’ conversation.  Review the last few years of involvement and communication.  Engage them in a conversation about what’s next. They may have a new cause that interests them as people’s giving tendencies can be finicky. That’s ok. Don’t push hard and be desperate.  Ask them if they can help you engage new support to replace what they’ve So happy, yet so sad...done for your annually. Insert your Old Yeller or White Fang analogy here.  Give ’em a hug and let them run off into the wilderness. They’ll remember you fondly and may direct other people your way when given the opportunity.

They may, however, be perfectly content continuing to support your organization at the usual level, or they may be in a better position to join the next level of donors.  If they are a strong board or advisory board prospect, have that conversation.  Lastly, get feedback.  Let them share what they’ve seen over they years.  They’ve been around for a while for a reason – and if you’re quiet enough to hear that, you’ll gain insight on how exactly to share another 5-7 wonderful years together.

How do you delicately define the relationship?

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