Date Your Donors: How To Cultivate Long-Term Donor Relationships

Tina Jepson
Tina Jepson

Donor retention has become a major focus in the resource development world over the past few years—and for good reason. Retention keeps your nonprofit income steady, makes fundraising easier, and encourages your donor to keep engaging with you throughout the year.

But, all you really need to know about how to cultivate long-term donor relationships can be learned from your own relationships.

What do you look for when you first enter into a relationship with a significant other? How do you act? What do you expect?

There sure are a lot of factors that go into dating and figuring out if the one you are with is actually “the one.” It might seem funny, but most of the qualities you look for, actions you take and decisions you make are about the same as the courting process between fundraisers and donors.

It’s time to date your donor.

Here are some secrets and tips that many relationship experts have said are the key to a successful long-term relationship. Let’s discuss how you can apply them to cultivate long-term donor relationships.

Make Your Partner Feel Comfortable

According to eHarmony, to ensure a long-term and happy relationship, your relationship partner needs to feel safe, respected and resolved.

Safe: Just like in your romantic relationships, the donor-fundraiser relationship is built on a foundation of trust. Fundraisers must speak honestly about the organization, mission, and services being provided. On the same note, donors need to feel like what they are hearing is truthful and from the heart.

Respected: Every donor needs to be treated like they are a special part of the organization’s big picture. Every gift, no matter how big or small, needs to be appreciated. Likewise, the opinions of donors must be acknowledged by fundraisers. Respect your donors, and they’ll remain by your side.

“Every gift, no matter how big or small, needs to be appreciated…” tweet this

Resolved: Fundraisers rely on the donor’s faith that the organization is running under the sound direction of a competent staff and board of directors. If your donors feel confident in the direction your nonprofit is taking, retention is likely.

The Signs of a Healthy Relationship

A recent article posted on The Huffington Post went into detail about the signs of a healthy relationship. Here’s a spin on this topic from a fundraiser’s perspective:

Discuss The Future: Honest and open discussions about the future are sure sign that both you and your romantic partner are on the same page.

These discussions are also essential for fundraisers. Be open about what your nonprofit’s plans are for the future. Let them know about ideas are in the works from your strategic plan. It should be a year-round conversation not limited to campaign times.

Value Each Other’s Thoughts: Just like in your personal relationships, it is essential to acknowledge the viewpoints of your donors. Consider an annual survey that donors can voice their opinions and provide feedback.

“Just like in your personal relationships, it is essential to acknowledge the viewpoints of your donors…”tweet this

It Isn’t Always About A Gift: For the most part, you donor isn’t banking on receiving a thank you gift or incentive. Forego the t-shirts, keychains, and other swag. Yes, we all know that these purchases come out of your marketing budget or from a corporate sponsorship, but your donor doesn’t know that. Nonprofit Network actually found that 86% of donors viewed token gifts negatively.

A sincere, handwritten thank you note does more wonders (more on that below!)

Work Hard: You’ve probably heard the saying “you get what you give.” If you put your efforts behind fundraising, follow a detailed calendar and engage in enrichment opportunities year-round, your donors will notice that your nonprofit is standing out among all others.

Consistent effort is sure to go a long way to help cultivate long-term donor relationships.

Why Trust Is Key

According to a Psychology Today article, trust is one of the biggest factors in long-term relationships. As we all know, trust depends on your partner or audience. Some people trust blindly while others need to be reminded about why you should be trusted.

Dependability: To gain your donor’s trust, put your focus on your trustworthiness and dependability. Dependable nonprofits are responsible for reporting financials, providing consistent services, and producing a return on investment.

“To gain your donor’s trust, put your focus on your trustworthiness and dependability…”tweet this

Like the article states, you may encounter one or two rare cases where you aren’t meeting expectations, but staying dependable is key when looking to cultivate long-term donor relationships well after they are done with their line of questioning.

The Collective “We”

LiveScience posted a great slideshow titled “6 Scientific Tips For A Healthy Marriage” and discussed the following:

Refer to “We”: Nonprofit work is all about sending the kudos out to donors. Yes, you are likely doing the work of 10 staff members at any given time, but donors need to feel like they are a big part of the process.

Instead of claiming “Our staff provided wrap-around services to 10 at-risk youth in our community”, spin it. “Because of your donation, WE were able to provide quality after-school care for 10 youth in our community.”

Remember, it is not about you. It is about them.

Say Thank You: If you’ve heard it once, you’ve heard it a million times: don’t forget to thank your donors. But time and time again, donors are reporting not receiving a thank you. Don’t fall into this trap.

If staffing permits, send a personalized and handwritten thank you note within 48 hours of receiving a gift. Then, consider recruiting your board of directors to complete some follow-up phone calls with the sole purpose of thanking the donor to help cultivate long-term donor relationships.

Look To The Long-Term

Visualizing your life together is the key to a successful long-term relationship.

Visualize Your Life Together: This is a two-way street. First, your donor must be able to trust that you are going to be around down the road. Most donors would never consider handing over a monetary donation to an organization that does not have a detailed growth plan and goals that extend well into the future.

On the name note, fundraisers must treat every donor like they are irreplaceable. The Fundraising Effectiveness Project of 2015 found that 63% of repeat donors are retained, as opposed to 19% of first-time donors. Therefore, a once-retained donor is much more likely to become a long-term donor and because of this, retention strategies should not be taken lightly.

Relationships are not always easy. They require time, energy and, above all else, a commitment to your partner.

Treat your donor like you would treat your significant other. Get to know them, treat them with respect, build trust, and be in it for the long-haul so that you can cultivate long-term donor relationships.

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