At some point you’ve probably heard “listening is the foundation of any good relationship.” This is true for relationships with friends, partners, family, and coworkers. It’s, of course, also true for your relationships with your donors.

Everyone who works in fundraising knows that getting that gift is all about the relationship you build with the person giving it. The first time someone gives a gift to your organization, you’re presented with the OPPORTUNITY to build a relationship. If you don’t work on building that relationship through communication and active listening, then there’s a chance that donor might not give again.

Here are some ways you can use active listening to build better relationships with your donors.

Listen to Your Donors’ Interests

Your donors have already proven their interest in your organization by giving a gift. But that doesn’t mean they’ve told you everything they want to tell you about their interest in your organization.

Donors give for different reasons. And each donor’s interest in your organization is specific. For example, if your organization focuses on feeding impoverished children, one donor may be interested in giving so that higher quality food can be distributed to these children, while another donor may be interested in giving so that a wider range of children can be served.

Both donors believe in your mission and are willing to give their money to support it, but they’re both interested for different reasons. And you’ll never know those reasons if you don’t actively listen to your donors.

When you know why people give and why people are interested in your organization, you’ll be much more able to build a meaningful relationship that’s based specifically on their interests. And you’ll know exactly who to ask when you’re running a specific campaign or how to tailor each ask for your general fundraising.

Providing Listening Opportunities

So, how can you actively listen to your donors’ interests? Provide a forum for conversation!

For donors who are likely to make major gifts, one-on-one meetings are always the best option. Take them to lunch or coffee. Spend that time actively listening to what they have to say. 

Always follow-up thanking them for the meeting either by phone or with an email. And always make sure to mention details from the conversation in your follow-up so they know they were truly heard.

You can’t have individual meetings with every donor though. So a great way to provide a setting for active listening is to have a donor appreciation event. During the event, touch base with as many donors as possible and have quick, but meaningful conversations. Really listen to what they have to say about your organization and after each conversation jot down some quick notes for communication planning.

You can also have regular open forums where donors can bring their opinions and suggestions.

To reach donors who may not show up to events or forums, sending an email survey is always a great idea. This allows you to gather data about donor interests in a way that’s easy to track and make actionable.

Use the Information Your Donors Give You to Tailor Your Communications

Now that you’ve heard what your donors have to say, what do you do with all that information? Act on it! 

Incorporate what you’re learning about your donors in your communication and asks.

When you’re launching a campaign targeted to a specific function or theme within your organization, go back to the information you received from your previous communications with donors. Send specific, personalized asks to the donors who expressed interest in the topic of the campaign. Be sure to mention that you remember they expressed interest when you met with them, chatted with them, or reviewed their survey results. These personalizations increase the chances that the donor will give because they see that they have been heard.

And if you’re sending asks via snail mail (only do this if you know your donors prefer mailers), add a handwritten, personalized note. Yes, this can be time consuming, but it truly goes a long way for relationship building.

Stay Connected All the Time With Social Media

Our world is more connected than ever before, which means our organizations are more connected as well. Through social media, you can stay in constant contact with your donors. And they can use social media to communicate back with you!

What’s the best way to use social media to create relationships with donors or potential donors? Be responsive. This means returning messages sent to your social media pages promptly.

It also means interacting with people in the comments on your posts when appropriate. This comes with a caution though. It’s best not to engage with people who are speaking negatively of your organization. You can reply once to show you’ve heard their concerns and you can invite them to privately message the page if they would like to discuss further. But do not get into a back and forth with these commenters as it reflects poorly on your organization.

Though social media can be used for light fundraising, your social media accounts should be focused on communication, listening, and relationship building, not on spamming your followers with more asks.

Building Solid Relationships With Donors

Your donors are the people who keep your organization alive, especially the donors who choose to give more than one gift or are giving recurring gifts. In order to keep donors giving, you need to focus on building relationships. This requires an active strategy of providing donors opportunities to share their thoughts, actively listening, continuing the communication, and incorporating their feedback into your asks.

When you make your donors feel important and heard, they’ll be happy to keep giving.

For more information about building great relationships with your donors, check out our website.