Join the club: how friendships raise $

There are good ships and wood ships, and ships that sail the sea, but the best ships are friendships, may they always be!

Irish proverbs may seem an unlikely place to look for fundraising advice, but alas! An integral part of fundraising is developing relationships and perhaps even friendships with donors. As the Fundraising Authority explains, relationships matter.

How much more likely are you to give to a friend raising money to support a charity that helped their mom during her fight against breast cancer than to a stranger with a clipboard representing a cancer research organization? The closer relationship you have with a donor, the more likely they are to support your organization. There are plenty of peer-to-peer fundraising success stories that lend credit to relationship-based fundraising. Connections formed by an Executive Director (ED) are no different.

Donors want to be involved; they want to feel like an integral part of something bigger. They are linking their identity to the organization they support. There’s a difference between the anonymity of “I donated to cancer research” and the inclusiveness of pointing at your yellow wristband. Everyone wants to be part of the club, and it is your job as an ED to make them feel as if they are. 

Having an ED who knows this and acts on it can be a powerful strength for smaller nonprofits who may have the capacity to connect with the majority of their individual donors. One of our clients is an ED of a medium-sized nonprofit. At the annual major donor dinner he goes around the room and tells the story of how he met each individual. This very powerful tribute to the close connections that have developed between the ED (i.e. the organization) and the donors allows each individual to recognize their meaningful role in the organization.

Even at larger events, this same ED uses personal relationships to make an impactful ask for support. Donors will give not because they have to, but because they are being asked by a friend, a confidante, someone who has been there for them in tough times, has shared meals with them and asks how their kids’ baptism or bat mitzvah went.

Connection is important for donors big and small. Genuine interest in your supporters sustains big donors and pushes up smaller donors. Using best practices and treating all donors like they matter equally is a way to build a sustainable fundraising base.

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