Mending a Broken Relationship

It’s tragically ironic that ‘Relationship Fundraising’ comes of age in a year when donor retention is at an all time low. When Ken Burnett published his book 21 years ago his definition read:

“Relationship fundraising is an approach to the marketing of a cause that centers on the unique and special relationship between a nonprofit and each supporter. Its overriding consideration is to care for and develop that bond and to do nothing that might damage or jeopardize it. Every activity is therefore geared towards making sure donors know they are important, valued and considered, which has the effect of maximizing funds per donor in the long term.”

Anyone disagree? Of course not, but read the definition again turning each statement into a question (i.e. ‘does our approach centre on a unique relationship with each supporter?’) Does that sound like our sector to you? Does it sound like your organization?

If it doesn’t, what does that say about our attitude towards donors?

Does the way we treat them carry over into our personal lives? Take list renting. How successful would my marriage be if I sold my wife’s contact details to other guys with a ‘propensity’ for taking her out? Or how about the way we harass people who several years ago returned a pound pack? If I did the same with an ex-girlfriend I’d be arrested for stalking!

How long would you stay in a relationship with someone who continually asked for money despite what you’ve told them, and never said thank you when you did help?

Of course we need to ask. But we need to be asking properly. So how do we do that?

The same way you try to mend a broken relationship with someone you love. Wouldn’t you spend some time listening to them; finding out what they cared about, and trying to give it to them? So how about learning what’s important to your donors and tailoring your communications around that? Charities that do this are seeing lifetime value increase by 131%!

Or try breaking the monotonous cycle of asks by once in a while thanking and updating donors on what they’ve achieved. Charities that do this reduce attrition by one third and see a huge lift in response to future asks.

What virtue is there in calling ourselves ‘relationship fundraisers’ if we never put the principles into practise?  

It’s not too late to change. Before you churn out yet another appeal on auto-blag ask yourself these questions:

  • Could this activity damage or jeopardize our relationship with this supporter?
  • Does this activity make sure our donor knows they are important, valued and considered?
  • How will this maximize funds long term?

How many lives could we have saved over the last 21 years if we’d actually done this?

“…there is one factor that can make the difference between damaging your relationship and deepening it. That factor is attitude.”  William James

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