So many fundraising problems can be solved by interacting with donors. Getting to know them. Asking about their interests. Learning their stories.

I call it “seeing donors in their natural habitat.”

But if you’ve had years and years of only focusing on your nonprofit and what you do and how great your staff is, interacting with donors can be really hard.

It’s like learning a new skill: it feels clumsy and awkward. But as you do it more, you’ll find it soon becomes natural.

Often it helps to have simple lists to get us started. That’s why I loved Mary Cahalane’s blog post “28 Ways You Can Show Donors They Matter to You.” Go read it now:

Learning to show donors you appreciate them is a huge step in building a relationship with them.

Relationships Matter

Talking to a nonprofit professional this week, she told of a firm that donated a software game to her work. Now they’re donating $12 million. As the relationship around the game – a game that directly related to her cause – they got to know her. And she them. That relationship has grown to a multi-million dollar donor who’s thrilled to be supporting the outcomes they’re seeing.

The challenge with relationships are

  1. The outcomes are certain: That company could’ve stopped with the game. All relationships have an element of risk.
  2. Not everyone wants a relationship with you: According to the Veritus Group in their book It’s Not (Just) About the Money, two out of three major gift donors don’t want a deeper relationship with you. That is actually great news! But it can feel like they’re rejecting you personally. (They’re not. They’re busy and feel great about the giving they’re doing for you.)

Put some of Mary’s tactics in place today

Start with Mary’s list. Donor stewardship is an incredibly powerful place to start growing in relationship activities. Expressing gratitude benefits both you and the donor and tends to make these activities more enjoyable.

As you go through her list, you’ll think of other things you can do. You’ll see that donor engagement is much like any other relationship – it takes time and attention.

But hopefully you’ll see that you can use things you’re already doing as you interact with donors. Your “thank you” video doesn’t have to be in a studio. It can be out where the mission is happening. Your notes could go with something that is already being sent. You’ll start seeing that there’s often no need to create special programs or mailings.

If you’re going to grow your fundraising in the coming months – regardless of the economy – you’ll need to get great at building relationships. You’ll want donors to feel you are one of their top three giving priorities. One that they won’t easily give up.

So be sure to put some tactics in place today.

What donor engagement strategy will you commit to?

What will you do this week? Tell us in the comments.

And please tell us of other things you’ve found build relationships with donors without adding a lot to your already full schedule.

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