Fundraising is the art of relationship building. People give to people, and people don’t give unless they are asked—that’s Fundraising 101. But in an increasingly technological world, these basic, indelible rules are sometimes forgotten.
Technology allows development professionals to better solicit donors, track giving, produce mailings, and monitor results. Numerous donor software packages increase our ability to manage information and track data. Sending annual appeals to a database of thousands is no longer a daunting task and gathering data for annual reports can take just moments. Technology has allowed us to reach more donors in less time, and increase our fundraising results.
Database programs allow for the input and output of data, but don’t illustrate the relationship between the organization and the donor. Building strong relationships is a well established value of successful fundraising. The story of how he or she became a donor, what their special interests are, and how donating to your organization meets their needs is concealed by the information in a database—that doesn't necessarily translate into a relationship.
The growth of technology has in part turned fundraising into a game of numbers. Many organizations have moved away from a personalized approach. Relationship building has become a lost art, allowing a competitive advantage to those organizations that best maintain a personalized approach while embracing technology.
Contacting a donor should be considered a relationship growth opportunity. Keep a supply of note cards, sympathy cards, and thank you cards at your desk and think of them as inexpensive development tools. Get in the habit of contacting the donor with a hand written letter as often as possible.
Phone calls allow an opportunity for dialogue and a chance to further the relationship. Most donors appreciate a thank you call in addition to the form thank you letter. Even leaving a message for him or her as a thank you will show that you value the relationship. Documenting all written correspondence and phone calls in the database will enable each contact to build upon the last. Each time that you call or write, you can reference your previous dialogue and strengthen the bond. The database provides the venue for recording this information, but you’re responsible for managing the relationship.
For large bulk mailings like an annual appeal, it is fundamental to use the mail merge function, but even bulk mail projects can be personalized. Hand written addresses rather than labels, stamps instead of printed postage, and original signatures instead of photocopied signatures are areas where the work is worth the extra effort. You can also divide your mailing list into categories such as giving level, geographic region or program area of interest and merge different names with letters that more accurately speak to the donor.
People give to people, not organizations. The best way to cultivate a relationship with a donor is by connecting with him or her as an individual, not just as a development officer. Whenever possible interact with them as you would one of your friends. Just like a friendship, the more you stay in contact, the closer you will become.
Meghan Connolly has been a fundraising professional for more than a decade. She is currently the Senior Development Manager at The LightHouse for the Blind and Visually Impaired in San Francisco. Meghan can be contacted at mconnolly@lightHouse-sf.org or 415.431.1481
Custom Development Solutions, Inc. (CDS) is one of the most sought after fundraising consulting firms specializing in the strategic planning and tactical execution of capital campaigns for non-profits throughout the United States and Canada. If you have a fundraising question, please call CDS at 800-761-3833 or send an email to email@example.com.