Build Authentic, Deep Relationships
Fundraising for Nonprofits
The best information we can get is the information donors give us about themselves. Great fundraisers are great listeners.
Relationships are the core of successful fundraising for nonprofits. Organizations and individuals responsible for raising resources are constantly looking for people whose passions align with their work.
They do extensive online research. They use sophisticated software tools to identify people with the means and interest to support their work. And, they spend time networking with others in their field to establish a strong reputation.
Unfortunately, the most obvious source of information about others is often overlooked — the people themselves.
Most of us won’t hesitate to share our interests and priorities. And as relationships grow, we even share more personal information. Every time I was in someone’s office or home, I learned a lot by just looking around.
A common error in fundraising, especially with major donors, is to assume that everyone shares the same motivation for giving to your cause. God made us unique from each other for a reason. A motivational assessment of each potential donor is a critical step before the ask.
The key is to look, listen, and be genuinely curious.
In my 30-plus years leading and growing organizations, I utilized the following six techniques to raise funds. This financial support was critical.
In just six years as the Chief Operating Officer of International Justice Mission (IJM), I helped our organization see a 20% annual growth. IJM is a nonprofit dedicated to freeing people from slavery. This growth allowed our global presence to expand, as we established six offices in Asia and Africa.
As the CEO of CRISTA — a multi-pronged, Seattle-based non-profit with a global presence — I spearheaded two multi-million dollar capital campaigns. These fundraising endeavors allowed for the building of key physical and social structures that forwarded the organization’s mission.
Let's dive in and discuss what helped make this possible — and how you can apply it at your organization.
6 Principles and Techniques of Fundraising Success
1. Build Relationships First.
Be genuine. You must develop a relationship that has the other person’s best interest at heart. If there is a mutual set of interests that’s great. Remember, there are many ways people can contribute to the work you represent. Money is not the only way someone can offer support.
Volunteers often become significant donors after they grow closer to the organization and like what they see and experience. I always told people, “The closer you get to us, the better you will like who we are and what you experience.”
This is why building a strong culture in your mission is of the utmost importance. You are building trust with everyone you meet. Be genuine and curious about serving others regardless of it is in your best interest.
Always put relationships first.
Trust is the coin of the realm when it comes to any relationship, and it’s particularly critical in effective fundraising. Donors will trust you as they sense your authenticity and your commitment to serve. Trust also means honoring donor intent and treating every donor and prospect with care and empathy. Trust is the fuel of solid, productive relationships.
2. Use the Seven Touch Principle Before Any Money Ask.
The movie industry developed the seven touch principle in the 1930s. They realized it took an average of seven advertisements to compel someone to see a movie.
In the land of fundraising ideas for nonprofits, this principle still rings true. Nothing bothers people more than only hearing from an organization when they have their hands extended. Any reason to connect with donors is important.
Say thank you often. Report on great successes and even failures. No one who has been around the block believes any mission is perfect. Invite people to events. Take them on visits to see your work. Use every platform available, not just technology.
I especially love getting and sending handwritten notes.
One of my favorite communication pieces was a “Thankful For You” note card in which I would include a hand-written note. No ask. Just a genuine expression of gratitude.
3. Remember a No is Never a No Forever.
Getting a no after asking for a gift is surely a letdown. But often it is just not the right time for the giver or they are testing to see how you respond. Do not be the person who never communicates after a no.
Thank them for their consideration and for their response, even if it is a no. The goal with the potential donor is their joy. Let them know your goal is their joy.
Remember, you are building relationships first. Stay with it if you really believe there is a match. And, ask them politely why they said no. This can really make a follow-up easier.
A former sales manager once told me, ‘Always close for something.’ Hearing the word NO may be tough, but believe me, hearing no answer at all is tougher, and far more frustrating! In my experience, ‘No’ usually means ‘Not yet’ -- which tells me I have more work to do. Whenever I interact with a donor or prospect, especially one who’s not ready to give, I always want to walk away with a clear answer to the question, ‘What’s the next step?’ Always close for something.
4. Recognize People Give Because They are Asked.
I can not stress how important it is to ask for money.
Many people hate asking, no matter the cause. There is a big emotional barrier for most around the discussion of money, especially major gifts.
The fear of being told no is a big deal for most people. It probably is for you too. But by focusing on why you’re raising the money, you can often overcome your fear (or at least tame it).
When thinking about fundraising, I like to keep this axiom in mind:
- Send an email, raise a dollar.
- Get someone on a phone call, raise $10.00.
- Visit an individual in person, raise $100.00.
Ask and you shall receive.
5. Meet Major Donors One-on-One Whenever Possible. Nothing Replaces that Connection.
If you want to raise major gifts, you have to develop personal relationships. Sure, social media and email marketing have their place. But a personal relationship requires time and patience. There is no substitute for being one-on-one with others who care about the same thing you do!
There is also no substitute for a genuine passion for what you are called to do. People can only experience this in person. When you’re with them, they see and smell your passion. Be with them.
But, always be clear why you're meeting – whether it's catching up or asking for a gift.
Never surprise a donor with an ask for a gift or pledge. This was a valuable and effective lesson I learned from Bob Lonac when he was CEO at CRISTA. Call the donor and let them know you want to meet with them to discuss a significant donation. You do not honor the donor if you state you just want to meet for coffee and then surprise them with an ask. That’s an ambush.
6. Embrace the Truth that People Give to Both the Mission and the People Running the Mission.
Transparency and accountability are always the best practices. Be a person of character.
Always tell the truth.
Donors want reports on how effectively their giving has accomplished the mission of the organization. Don’t hide the results. Show them the good, the bad, and the uncomfortable.
I learned once that donors often ask three questions. ‘Do I care about this cause or issue? Do I believe your organization is effective in meeting the need? Do I trust you to use my money wisely, in ways that matter to me?’ One of those questions is data-driven, while two are based on the donor’s heart and instincts. It’s a blend of intellect and emotion. Figuring out the balance is why, in my view, fundraising is more art than science.
And, don’t be afraid to show them yourself too. Let them get to know you as a person. Your passions, family, and faith all play a role in who you are and why you believe in your organization’s mission.
The more you share, the more donors will care about you and support what you believe in.
While you don’t have to dish every detail about your life (nor should you), sharing some can go a long way.
Do You Have More Questions About Fundraising?
Let's have a 15-minute chat. Contact Bob Lonac Consults and our network of professionals. We'd be happy to connect and discuss if our experience can add value to your organization.