Developing relationship building strategies for your donor prospects
So, you have the start of a donor portfolio. You have run all the lists, sorted them, and then ranked them. And now, you have your top two hundred donors.
Do you start by making contact, perhaps sending a pre-call letter or even making a telephone call? What are the next steps as part of this process?
Before you even make contact with the prospective donor, there are some crucial steps that you need to take in between rating and ranking them and making the first contact. And, if you miss this, you can short-circuit the entire process of establishing relationships from here on out.
So, what are these next steps and why?
Each major donor prospect is an individual and, because they are individuals, they each have their own motivations, aspirations, and beliefs. What may work just fine for one prospective donor, may not work for another. So, you will want to do the following:
1) Gather a committee of individuals together of those who know your top donor prospects the best. Have a group “strategy” discussion meeting. The purpose of this meeting is to develop a strategic relationship building plan for each identified top donor prospect on your list. Yes, this needs to be a group meeting. It is only within the collective wisdom of the group that the best next steps will emerge. You cannot conduct this process in isolation.
2) Start with the top-ranked and top-rated donors to provide focus on your efforts. These are the donors who were numerically ranked the highest during the rating session that you had and, as a result, have the highest capacity and interest in your cause.
3) Of each prospective donor on your list, ask these critical questions:
- What do you know about this prospect?
- What is their interest area in our cause?
- What is a particular aspect of our mission/programs/services that they are most interested in?
- With whom do they have a relationship?
- What is the next best step to take with this prospect?
- Who is the best person to take that next best step?
- What other steps should we consider in the future?
4) These above questions are important. Far too often, I get asked, “Will you solicit our donors?” And, I say, “The answer depends. It depends upon who is the best person to do that. I may not be that best person.” If you don’t have the best person, you may not develop a full and connected relationship with the donor. The process of cultivating, stewarding, and soliciting donors is not a one-size-fits-all approach. You must give careful consideration to it.
5) Once you have had these conversations, you must document, document, document. The ideal place to record all of this information is in the organization’s database for institutional history purposes. With the high turnover rate among development professionals, this is highly recommended.
6) Then, develop and document a “Strategic Relationship Building” plan with each donor.
7) Engage those identified as the best to connect with the donor and make that connection happen.
Donor relationship building is not a one-size-fits-all approach. This relationship building is one aspect of development for which you must start with the appropriate steps. The expectation should not be that the “development person does this.” It is everyone’s job. What we must remember is that donors are people. They are unique. And, a blanket cultivation approach will not work. Relationship building needs to follow the adage of “the right person, at the right time, for the right amount (and project).” Then, and only then, will your relationship building strategies be effective.