A family friend shared a story with me about a colleague who was the chief development officer for a national health nonprofit. The development officer wanted to get to know a local philanthropist who gave a small annual fund donation to his nonprofit each year.
The CDO was aware of the donor’s generosity and her capacity to make large donations to causes she cared about. Their first contact occurred over coffee, and for the next 10 years, he got to know her very well. They shared stories about their children and grandchildren, and he checked on her during major events in her life. He never missed taking her out for one special lunch each year. Their lunches provided an opportunity for him to talk about his work and the difference the nonprofit was making for families across the country. They became friends, and the donor became confident that her support of the organization met her philanthropic goals and intentions.
One day his assistant surprised him with the news that his friend of 10 years was there to see him. He was startled by her showing up unannounced and worried that something was wrong. As she was ushered into his office and sat down, she slid a white envelope across the desk and asked him to open it. He pulled out a seven-figure check from a woman who had given annually for 10 years but never more than a couple of thousand dollars.
What happened next? According to my friend, they both cried.
This is a beautiful example of the bond that can develop between a donor and a senior leader of a nonprofit. Their story underscores the importance of authenticity in the relationships we develop on behalf of our organizations. This donor was motivated by two things: (1) the organization was fulfilling its mission and using her gifts wisely; and (2) the chief development officer earned her trust and her loyalty by putting her interests as a donor first.
In our eagerness to raise funds for our worthy causes, we spend a great deal of time focusing on the needs of our organizations. And in the process, we often alienate the most important people in them… our donors.
Here are 10 proven strategies for creating authentic relationships with high-capacity donors:
Karen has more than 20 years of experience as a results-driven fundraising and nonprofit professional, serving as CEO of several South Georgia nonprofits where she built strong relationships across Georgia and under the gold dome in Atlanta. She served for ten years as director of development at Darton State College, where she managed the Darton Foundation and led its first-ever capital campaign.