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5 Ways Cultivating Relationships Helps Engage Donors


How exactly do you build trust? What are the most effective tools and strategies you can use to develop authentic, trusting relationships with donors?

In Russ Reid’s groundbreaking 2010 study, Heart of the Donor: Insights into donor motivations and behavior for the 21st century, they found that trust was one of the key motivators for donors to consider a charity as “favorite.”

1) Be Personally Relevant

Rainmaking-CoverSpecifically, donors indicated that charities needed to be doing work that was personally relevant to them, provide a positive donor experience and prove their organizational trustworthiness.

This, we propose, is the cost of entry to building trust-based philanthropic relationships.

2) Invest in Others

Beyond what the team at Russ Reid found in their study, the key to building relationships is investing in others. This means investing time and resources to be present with your donors, and seeking to understand who they are and what their values and motivations are.

Donors can spot a salesman a mile away. Unfortunately, they probably have experience with development officers who are only pretending to care. Donors have, out of necessity, become experts at identifying authenticity in the nonprofit staff with whom they engage.

They want to know that you honestly and truly value the relationship with them because of who they are, not because of the number of zeros in their bank account.

How can you show this in tangible ways?

3) Practice Active Listening

  • Pour yourself into the relationship, serving the donor at every opportunity
  • Be honest and transparent in all your interactions
  • Seek to hear, understand and empathize with your donor
  • Remember that it’s not about you. Your donor desires to accomplish great things with her wealth. You’re simply there to help make this possible for her.
  • If something goes wrong, notify the donor immediately and provide solution options

If someone is a member or regular attender at your church I think we’re safe to assume that what you’re doing is personally relevant to them. So you can check that box. Where I think many churches are missing the mark, however, is in delivering the donor experience and proving organizational trustworthiness.

4) Demonstrate Impact

When was the last time you ran a video showing the impact that church giving has made on your community? On the lives of those you support overseas?

When was the last time your church board sat in a room and made thank you calls to regular supporters to tell them you appreciate their commitment and appreciate their ongoing support of the ministry?

When was the last time you walked the entire congregation through the church’s finances and showed them how their tithes and gifts are being spent – and more importantly, what those investments are accomplishing?

5) Think Differently

I want to challenge you to think differently about giving at your church. It’s not just about people fulfilling an obligation. It’s about engaging people so that they maximize giving to your church and your associated ministry efforts.

If you’re building and nurturing trust-based relationships and engaging with people around the aspects that are important to them, you’ll have a much better chance at them maximizing giving.

This is an excerpt from Andrew Olsen’s new book, Rainmaking: The Fundraiser’s Guide to Landing Big Gifts.

Andrew Olsen
Andrew Olsenhttp://andrewolsen.net
Andrew Olsen, CFRE, is an award-winning advisor to churches/parachurch ministries, nonprofits, and political organizations across the U.S. Over the last decade he’s helped organizations raise more than $60 million to help change lives, influence public policy and shape the nation’s political landscape. Visit his blog for more great fundraising articles and free downloads.


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