3 Keys to Positive, Productive Donor Relationships

Thinking of your donors as partners rather than bags of money will improve donors’ happiness and lead to increased funds for your nonprofit organization, according to an expert.

By Maddie Bro

“We become what we think about.” This phrase, coined by self-help speaker and author Earl Nightingale, reflects his observation about human behavior: our thoughts influence our actions, beliefs, and relationships. Professionals of an array of industries have embraced this as a key to success.

Life and fundraising coach Marcy Heim suggests this outlook should be used not only in one’s personal pursuits, but believes it is essential for helping improve major donor relations and fundraising efforts in the nonprofit sector.

The Chronicle of Philanthropy recently shared a podcast by Fundraising Fundamentals’ Tony Martignetti in which he and Heim discuss how approaching major donors in a positive, partnership-based manner can bring about better fundraising results.

Heim finds that respecting donors and assisting them to explore giving opportunities that match their values will bring them joy. In effect, this joy will result in increased donor support and greater fundraising success for the nonprofit organization.

Heim provides three keys that your nonprofit organization should keep in mind when incorporating this approach into your fundraising efforts.

  • Make your donors’ investment interests a priority. Heim says a positivity-based fundraising mindset occurs when an organization focuses its attention on a donor’s enjoyment to invest rather than on the organization’s need for a donor’s money. You should think of your organization as a place of abundance, not as a place of lack, and as a place of success, rather than as a victim. Listen to your donor’s ideas and values.
  • Donors are people first, sources of money second. To bring about a donor’s joy to support your organization, Heim says nonprofits should think of donors as people, givers, and partners in the organization’s efforts to make the world a better place. Rather than objectifying a donor and focusing on ways to get money out of them, think of a donor as a colleague that works alongside your organization to help improve to the world.
  • Question your previous donor-related questions. Heim says in order to transition to this new approach, we must ask questions that focus on the potential for opportunity rather than on a lack of available funds or support. She uses the question-format because it helps the Internet search engine-like manner in which our brains look for solutions to problems. Examples of Heim’s optimistic-based questions include: How do we feel about money and wealth? Why are we so privileged to be involved in this noble discipline? How have we been successful in reaching out to the donors that currently support us? Heim says donors can appeal to the answers of such questions more easily than the answers of negative-oriented questions.

Expressing gratitude and respect for donors, being authentic, and listening to donors’ interests are ways in which your nonprofit can foster donors’ joy to invest, and in the long term, increase funds raised for your nonprofit organization.

About the blogger – Maddie Bro is a third-year undergraduate student studying journalism and gender/women’s studies at the University of Iowa. Following graduation, she aspires to attend law school to pursue her interest in studying civil rights law, free speech issues, and equal opportunity policy. Maddie enjoys swimming, running, reading, and catching up on CBS’ The Good Wife in her free time.


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