Nurturing Relationships with Past Donors

By Susan Rostkoski, Principal Consultant 

As fundraisers, we have a myriad of techniques available to reach donors, potential donors, and past donors (I dislike the word “lapsed” as it isn’t a word we would use to the donor’s face).   However, those techniques focus on what we do and the “moves” that we or the donor are making, not on what is happening in our relationship with that person. I believe we need to go on a journey of understanding with the donor. What does that journey look like?

There are key elements to watch for as you build a relationship with discernment around the donor’s perspective. After a brief but enlightening informal survey of friends, family, co-workers, and willing donors, here is what is I have learned: 

1. Information—This is not to be mistaken for communications, marketing, or public relations. Many people get their information about your organization from other people including friends, colleagues, family, or volunteers at your organization. This often means the most critical audiences you should reach with accurate, up-to-date information are the ones closest to you. This way you harness a cadre of people most connected to what is really happening inside your organization. 

2. Exploration — Donors tend to check myriad sources when an organization speaks to their heart. Yes, various research shows that most first decisions are emotional ones. Then, we human beings add the facts to what we have already decided to do. Make sure your organization is easily accessible and that your social media and web page information are continuously updated. When that crucial moment comes, donors will want to take a minimum number of steps to be more involved. 

3. Confirmation — At this point, the potential donor reaches out to your organization, either for additional mission information, volunteer opportunities, or donation mechanisms. Here, your timely response is critical. Today’s nonprofit landscape offers an almost infinite number of philanthropic opportunities. When your name comes up, it is crucial that the donor is being directed to the right person or department. Get feedback from those outside your organization as to how easy it is to give (donate) to you. 

4. Affirmation — Once the check arrives in the mail, you have an opportunity to further build the relationship. All first-time donors should, in addition to a thank you letter, be contacted by phone to be welcomed to the “family” at your organization. Calls can be made by staff, board members, or well-trained volunteers, but choose people who can truly convey a warm welcome, impart excitement about your mission, and who possess enough knowledge to answer basic questions. 

Careful and honest scrutiny of your processes from a donor perspective will ensure that you don’t miss opportunities and that relationship building is always part of your process. 


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Susan Rostkoski