The donor relationship is the most important relationship that a non-profit organization needs to cultivate. Without the support of the donor, organizations wouldn’t be able to provide the support and services to their intended recipients.

In many ways, donor relationships are similar to dating relationships. Organizations greatly benefit from building strong relationships with their donors.

Is It Okay to “Date” Your Donors?

Yes! But not in the traditional sense. Many of the basic elements of a successful dating relationship directly correlate to donor relations and stewardship. Relationships are built on a foundation of trust, open and clear communication, and shared goals. While gettting the donor’s attention is the first step, nurturing that relationship is equally critical to your donor development.

So How Do You “Date” in a Donor Relationship?

While it should more or less be an organic process, you still need to prepare for discussions with potential donors to help establish and build the relationship. Below are actionable steps for dating and donor development.

The First Date

You must first establish a relationship with them. Just like a real first date, first impressions are lasting and will determine if there’s a second, a third, and so on. A potential donor is going to want to hear about the vision, mission, and goals of your organization. Understanding your organization’s priorities will help a donor determine if their interests align and whether they want to give you money. They will also want to hear your heart and passion behind your cause, as this will likely help them relate with your mission and become more invested.

In many ways, they’re going to want to see how selfless your organization really is. Just like a date wouldn’t want to hear you talk about yourself for hours on end, a potential donor is going to want to hear how their dollars are going to have an impact on the community and other people – they need to know they’re getting something out of the relationship too. Make it a priority to position your vision, mission, and goals to articulate that.

They Like You, Now What

Congratulations, you’ve made it to the second date! They really like something about your organization (you, your team, your mission, your vision, etc.) and want move forward with the relationship. This is where you start to establish and build trust. Be prepared to present REAL examples with them on how their donor dollars will be used. This way, you can work with them to ensure that both parties are comfortable and that expectations are clear from the start.

Communication is going to be wildly important, just as it is in any relationship. Setting up a reporting schedule helps keep both parties informed on donor funding use and related outcomes. Opening clear channels for communication also helps alleviate any concerns that the donor may have about how you’re spending their money. Sharing your own concerns or challenges – AKA vulerability – allows the donor an opportunity to help you shift priorities and could open the door for more money to help solve problems.

It’s Time to Nurture

Consistent reporting and communication is great, but it’s equally important to nurture the relationship in other ways. Reaching out only when you owe them an update or have a problem creates a rigid relationship. Instead, make them a priority and share your appreciation whenever you have the chance.

Take them to dinner! Okay, not an actual dinner but similar to how you would do special things with a real date, invite donors to special events that your organization is hosting or participating in. Events like grand openings, cohort launches, or holiday parties are a great way to include your donors beyond standard reporting.

Share important milestones with them. Send them newsletters, cards, or other types of communications that make them feel involved and appreciated. If you hosted an event or program on their dime, send them a brief or video summarizing the participation and outcome. This builds that trust and shows them that you value their relationship.

Respect and Loyalty Are Key

The key to a lasting relationship stands on respect and loyalty – this is especially true when money is involved. The best way to respect a donor relationship is to use their money appropriately and honestly. Misuse of donor funds is not only detrimental to the relationship, it can get you in all sorts of trouble. By clearly establishing expectations and outlining how their money will be used at the onset, you can avoid any opportunities for misuse. It also helps you to maintain accountability to yourself and all of your organizational stakeholders.

Loyalty is equally important. Building trust with a donor can lead to a lucrative future together. If you show them that you’re committed to the relationship, they will likely return that commitment and continue or even increase their support. They will value relationships in which they themselves feel valued.

Dating Can Be Easy

Donor relationships don’t have to be difficult or uncomfortable. A successful relationship can be established if both parties work together to make it happen but, just like any relationship, they require effort. Positioning a donor as if you were dating them is a simple way for you to approach the relationship to benefit both parties. Clearly identifying your needs, articulating your vision, mission, and goals, opening communication, and respecting your donor will provide a mutually beneficial relationship. Many organizations miss out on donor opportunities, or lose donors, because they don’t put in the appropriate effort to maintain that relationship.

And guess what, attaining brand new donors costs WAY more money and effort, so you might as well use that time to better invest in the ones you have.

Understanding Donor Dating 

If you’re looking for ways to find and date potential donors, we can help. Visit our website to see the solutions we offer that can not only help you establish, but also maintain, those relationships.