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ASU Lodestar Center Blog

Asking, not telling


Illustration by Jocelyn Ruiz

Relating well and as often as possible to donors is far and away the best foundation any nonprofit can build; better than the best website or the wittiest tweets. How you make your supporters feel about their social investment in your organization is paramount.

One of the necessary parts of this relationship building process involves thinking of yourself as a detective solving a puzzle: How can you make people feel that their acts of support for your organization are magical - and needed and special.

If you are at arms' length from them (constantly sending them electronic or snail mail communication) you can't possibly begin to know them. Can you become best buddies with every person who donates time and money to your organization? Not likely.

But what you can do is to reach out to people immediately upon their involvement.  Make a quick phone call to thank them - yes, I said it.  Sometimes you actually should pick up the phone instead of emailing, e-blasting or tweeting! And there's always the wonderful hand-written note.  Nothing says that you are thinking about someone quite like that. Asking for their advice and input through focus groups and short on-line surveys tells them that you care about what they think.  Any time that you can spend with them in person or in direct dialogue will pay dividends for them and for your organization.

Once you begin a conversation and a relationship, you should begin asking: why do they support your organization; what led them to do so; what parts of your mission resonate most with them; do they know anyone who might be interested in becoming a donor as well.  You also want to know how they would they like you to communicate with them and acknowledge them (finding out how to recognize each donor is a great first step in creating a positive, long-term relationship).

One of the key practices to adopt through all of these interactions is to have a good, consistent way of capturing the conversations and ensuring that critical pieces of information from the donor live on past a single interaction or a relationship with a single staff person or volunteer.  Whether this is done with a donor database, or contact software it needs to be part of your relationship management system.

Too many times we are so passionate about the work we do in the community we end up having lots of monologues - passionate ones for sure, but we don't have proper dialogues which ultimately enable us to know and appreciate those valuable people who keep us going day after day.  Also, making supporters feel that they are getting the 'inside scoop' on your organization and its work is invaluable. Many supporters report that they enjoy both a sense of doing 'good' in the community AND being educated.  At the end of the day, one of the best ways for them to learn is to give them the opportunity to ask questions and share their ideas and dreams.

Embrace the mantra of "asking, not telling" and good things will happen.  Perhaps you can even tweet about it!

Nancy Grace, principal, Graceful Fundraising LLC, is a senior level executive, whose career spans more than 25 years and incorporates a uniquely well-rounded set of experiences. More than a decade ago, she transitioned into the nonprofit sector working as the development director at the Phoenix Zoo, actively serving as a board member with numerous 501(c)(3) and (c)(4) organizations, and ultimately became a development consultant & instructor.


ASU Lodestar Center Blog