Relationship Fundraising

May 29, 2018 at 9:12 pm Leave a comment

Before I talk about relationship fundraising, we need to agree on what a relationship is. As defined by Dictionary:

relationship | rɪˈleɪʃ(ə)nʃɪp/ | noun
The way in which two or more people or things are connected, or the state of being connected. The way in which two or more people or groups regard and behave towards each other.
Synonyms: connectionrelationassociationlinkcorrelationcorrespondence,
paralleltie-upalliancebond, interrelation, interconnection; interdependence of


For us to agree that relationship fundraising and transformational philanthropy go hand in hand, we need to understand that forming a relationship and authentic engagement with a donor is key to deep, loyal, life long philanthropic investment.

Think about your friends. Honestly.
  • Do you have deep relationships with those who ask you for something all the time?
  • Do you spend a lot of time with friends who complain about everything and anything all the time? Money, job, partner, life in general.
  • Are you deeply engaged with your friends who expect you to do all the work to keep the relationship going – calls, texts, invitations.
  • Do you have friends who never say thank you? Never offer to reciprocate?
  • Do you care deeply about friends who only engage with you when they need something from you – money, moving help, job reference, gossip.

Just like your “not really friends” as described above, a donor isn’t interested in a list of the nonprofit’s needs, “wish” list, urgent calls for help. This is not the way to start or deepen a relationship – with anyone let alone a philanthropist. Relationship fundraising is not about the organization’s reputation and greatness (real or perceived). It is not what the organization needs or budget shortfall. r

Relationship fundraising is all about the donor and connecting their interests to the organization’s people – because people give to people – not institutions.

What does relationship fundraising look like?

  • Link a donor’s values with their philanthropic passions.
  • Connect the donor with other people (staff or donors) who share their values and commitment to philanthropy.
  • Engage donors in stories and opportunities of interest to them.
  • Ask for feedback and provide donor focused engagement, follow up, updates and information based on their interests and timing.

Ultimately this means the organization and philanthropist come together for the right ask, at the right time by the right person, from the right donor. Usually when there is deep engagement and coming together of values – the philanthropist says,

“How can I help?”
“How much do you need?”
“What is the next step? I want to be involved.”

This is relationship fundraising. It takes time – there is no guide as every donor is different. But it my job as a professional fundraiser to focus on the donor. Continue to deepen the relationship and engagement. I am proactive in this work. I have a strategy that changes each time I engage with the donor. The engagement moves the donor closer to their passion and philanthropic investment.

Ken Burnett is leader in this discussion. He has written and presented on what works and doesn’t in relationship fundraising. I bow to Ken and offer you his thinking on relationship fundraising and more. 


Entry filed under: Fundraising. Tags: , , , , .

Fundraising v Fundcatching – Five Suggestions Nonprofit Branding – Focus on the Donor

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