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Three Ways to Strengthen Your Donor Pipeline Using ‘Relationship Fundraising’

Actively managing your donor pipeline, regardless of how well it is currently performing is a critical part of your job as a fundraising leader. We discussed the critical importance of acquisition and retention. Now it’s time to look at nurturing your relationships with the donors who are onboard, ensuring they feel a part of the organization and want to grow with you as their own circumstances change.

What is Relationship Fundraising and why is it so important?

Many donors give because they are passionate about the mission of your organization. They believe in your cause and want to play a role in helping change the world through your organization. However, that enthusiasm can fade when your relationship with them isn’t actively managed. This is why the relationship fundraising concept is so important.

Donors don’t like being treated like ATMs, where the only thing your organization seems to value is the transaction. Instead, we must focus on their needs.

Relationship fundraising means intentionally engaging donors by the donor lifecycle milestones they’ve achieved. In other words, speak to them in terms of their experience, expectations, and needs.

If you want to reinforce your donor pipeline through relationship fundraising, here are a few essential steps to take:

1. Recognize the stages of Relationship Fundraising

Relationship fundraising recognizes there are distinct stages of relationship development, and each stage has unique needs.

It is important to think differently about each stage and find a way to move prospects toward committing to a sustaining gift and/or a planned gift. We must be intentional about engaging donors and prospects in the appropriate way at each stage of their relationship with us.

Think about the earliest stage of acquiring a new sustaining donor. Your organization is still front and center on their mind, and they may still feel a fresh wave of excitement from helping you make a difference in the world. New sustainer gifts are common, and you can capitalize on that relationship-building interaction to collect information on why they are supporting you, what their other philanthropic interests are, as well as their thoughts about the direction of your organization. This critical point of contact after the donor agrees to a sustaining relationship is a great time to collect such “zero-party data,” that is, information your new constituent volunteers to you. As your donor list grows and deepens, having such information allows for better future data visualization and donor analytics with the help of a donor intelligence tool such as GivingDNA.

2. Provide tangible benefits for your donors

In the past, our fundraising approach sold the donor on the idea that their support benefits the organization’s beneficiaries. And indeed, that reality hasn’t changed, but the state-of-the-art approach to bringing donors onboard is more donor-centric. How can we deliver exceptional value to the donor?

This is more than simply saying, “thank you for the impact you’re making.”

How can we make our donors better citizens so they say, “I am better for my relationship with this organization than I am outside of it?”

Ask yourself, what are the greatest assets of our organization, and how can we use that to benefit the donor. For example, higher education institutions have a plethora of knowledge they can use to provide benefits that build relationships with donors. Health and human service organizations can organize mission trips for donors, providing them with unforgettable experiences. Media organizations and other service organizations that provide content and education can offer access to exclusive interviews, panels, podcasts, video, and other materials that help the donor feel truly a part of the organization.

Exclusive gifts are another time-tested way of saying “thank you.” Most people already have enough things, so consider gifts that facilitate experiences and connection. Event tickets, park passes, and VIP meet & greets with organizational executives are among a few experiential gifts shown to motivate sustaining giving.

3. Build stronger relationships with donor fusion & donor-centricity

One thing every nonprofit must understand is that donors see themselves as part of the organization. To better understand this, consider a serious relationship between two people. Eventually, two people function together as a unit - a sort of micro-organization. Donors have the same mindset when they think about organizations they’re passionate about. This is the idea behind donor fusion. The more you can play into this phenomena in communication and engagement with your loyal donors, the stronger the relationship will become.

Donor centricity is another critical aspect of your donor relationships. Recognize that donors see themselves as the center of their universe, achieving an impact through various organizations that they support.

It’s important to recognize how your donors think. Celebrate what they’ve accomplished by making them a hero that partners alongside your organization to change the world.

In order to effectively steward your donors, you need to know what they want, what’s important to them, their communication preferences, and what excites them the most about your organization. Data-driven donor research can help. With the right data, you can deeply understand your donors and use targeted messaging that allows you to be deliberate in your communication. This laser focus enhances your ability to successfully manage your donor pipeline, advancing donor relationships along the way.

When you create pathways for new donors, current donors, and loyal donors, then track their progress based on specific milestones, you’ll minimize donor lapse and ensure ongoing progress in growing relationships across the donor pipeline.

To learn more about how to optimize your strategy and create the most opportunities for fundraising success, download the free content paper, Optimize Your Donor Pipeline.

Download the whitepaper

Want a way to easily see the real-time retention rates of your donor file? Get a demo of GivingDNA.