Many of our colleagues in the Nonprofit Development field have told us, even pleaded with us, to create donor-centered relationships with our supporters and build their passions for greater support for our causes and organizations. I absolutely, positively agree. It’s the relationships you create with your supporters that bring them back year after year, and get them to share their time and treasure in the future.
While it is important to bring new supporters to the table, it’s more important to keep the donors who are already giving, and to keep them, you need to know what keeps them happy and find out what will make them even happier.
There are a few ways to find out more about your financial supporters. I know of some organizations that use polls and questionnaires, either sent by email or by snail mail to new or existing donors that have supported the programs and mission of an organization. If you’re lucky, a percentage will fill out the forms and send them back, but many do not. It is a good start, but it isn’t very personal.
Other nonprofits will pick up their phones and call supporters and start conversations. Often, though, the conversations are lopsided sales calls, describing how great the organization and its mission and programs are. They don’t ask the simplest questions about the donor, and the call is essentially telemarketing.
When I make those calls or emails to existing donors, I ask to make a face to face appointment with the supporter. I explain that I want to confirm the contact information and preferences the organization has in their records, learn more about them personally, and ask them for their opinions about our programs and performance and for advice on ways we can improve. I make a point of telling them up front that I will take notes during our conversation, and that the information they share with me is strictly for the organization’s records and will help us in the future when contacting them about possible opportunities that might interest them, and it will not be shared with others. I also emphasize that I am not going to ask them for money at that time. If they choose to write a check after our conversation, I’m not going to refuse it, but my purpose is not to ask for money at that time.
When asking the supporter for that face to face meeting, always give the donor the choice of when and where to meet. You should offer to meet at their home or office at a time convenient for them, (my preference for several reasons), your office at the organization during operational hours, or at a neutral location. The donor should feel empowered and comfortable, not like a school kid called to the Principal’s office. You want them to be comfortable wherever they choose to meet.
I also offer to bring a treat to eat as a courtesy, to thank the donor for making time for our conversation. If you are meeting at your office around lunch time, offer to make them a light lunch of soup and sandwiches or salad. If meeting with them at a coffee shop, offer to pay for their drink and a bite to eat. If meeting at their home, offer to bring a dessert item, brownies or cookies, when meeting after their dinner. You don’t need to go all out and prepare a five course meal, but a little bit of food rarely hurts.
Remember that getting the meeting is the important thing. It is the opportunity to really create a personal relationship with your financial supporter, learn their priorities, and it creates the opportunity for your partner to find how valued they are to your organization, beyond their financial gifts.
Hopefully, this advice will help you get your foot in a door that is partly open already. Soon, I will share some important questions to consider asking when you are face to face.