Not relationships VS results – relationships FOR results

Why do we fundraise? Is it all about the money? Is it all about the donor? Is it all about the mission?

That’s a tough question – and there isn’t an easy answer.

Every single staff person of your nonprofit serves the mission. As a fundraiser, I serve the mission by raising money. To raise the most money over the long term, I need to focus on maximizing donor relationships. To maximize donor relationships, I need to look at, and draw from, the tested and proven body of knowledge around fund development.

It isn’t relationships VERSUS results, it’s about relationships FOR results.

In her wonderful post, Margaux poses the challenge that “it’s either about relationships or results” and asks “As fundraisers, shouldn’t it be the money that matters?”. She reminds us that relationships aren’t the end in themselves, they are the means to an end – the end is and always needs to be raising money for our beneficiaries.

I completely agree.

Being results oriented at its worst can be short sighted, especially when it is being driven by a non-fundraiser whose vision stops at fiscal year-end. It can put the mission (or worse the organization!)  first – at the expense of the donor. You can stop seeing the people behind the dollars. A focus on transactional giving can leaves long term potential off the table. Key chains and cupcakes have their place, and if they work please use them! Just remember they don’t often lead to transformational gifts (think legacy giving or major donations).

Being relationship oriented also has risks, especially as I often see fundraisers hiding behind the term “donor-centric” as an excuse to NOT ask donors for money. “We mail them too much! We ask too often! We have to be donor centric” – What??!?  These fundraisers are missing the point – asking is an important and essential part of being donor-centric. Asking is not only why we build relationships – it’s a core part of relationship building.

Your donors want to give. They enjoy it. You have no right to cancel money making programs like premium mailings because you don’t like the idea of it. Being donor centric means paying attention to how your donors behave and making smart decisions based on those observations.

You have to believe in your cause, and know that you serve that cause by raising money.

You have to understand that donors want to help. The method of help you are interested in – and THEY are interested in – is giving money.

You have to realize the long term value of a donor when you build a relationship – and look for ways to build that relationship.

For proof that relationships help your bottom line – I look to Tom Ahern, whose donor centric newsletters raise money – crazy money. I look to Chuck Longfield who has proven that “when  phone a new donor who has just given a gift, simply to say ‘Thank you’, nothing more, just ‘thank you’, then their value in subsequent years goes up by 40%” (thanks for that Stephen Pidgeon!). I look to Dr. Adrian Sargeant who has measured and tested the science behind donor retention. All three stand up for the importance of relationship building for results, with powerful tested science backing them up.

I listen to what these fundraisers have to say, not because it sounds nice, but because there is science, research and testing behind the claims they make. You have to pay attention to donor behavior. You need to test it and measure it. That data will help you build relationships AND raise more money. You need to value that data and make fact based decisions. But you must also never forget the people behind that data: the human beings, giving to other human beings to make the world a better place.

When I was 14 I lost a friend to leukemia. I think of her often, I wonder who she would be if she was alive today. Would she be travelling? Would she be married? Would she have gone to university? I’ll never know. But I do know this world is dimmer without her light in it. I will never be a researcher, a nurse, or an oncologist. But I can make my own difference in the fight against cancer – by raising money. To do that well, I need to do everything I can to maximize results, by focusing on building good donor relationships.

As fundraisers we have to live in that grey area Margaux described– always testing, asking questions and examining what we are doing. Only then will we raise the money our causes need – from engaged and loyal donors.

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