Engagement Comes Before Marriage: How Nonprofits Build Sustained Relationships

It’s a long way from “I like you” to the altar.  Where is the love?
Ask yourself if you’re trying too often to rush to the altar without an engagement. If you’re wondering why those folks who… “liked” you on Facebook…  gave after being strong-armed by their friends… bought a silent auction item while first-time event attendees… are not taking the next step and becoming ongoing supporters, then take a step back. Don’t Put the Fundraising Cart before the Friendraising Horse.You may be trying to force a relationship where none yet exists.

Sure, there are marriages (in name only) that happen without engagement. Folks may ‘marry’ as the result of a shotgun wedding, a business arrangement or a quick trip to Vegas in the heat of the moment, but these are not the marriages of which dreams are made. There is a vast difference between these transactional marriages and lasting, devoted relationships. Because transactions are made so easily in this digital age, we sometimes forget what’s important. Engagement that leads to lasting marriage requires a human touch and connection.
You must go through the engagement phase if you want a lasting pledge of faith and commitment. This is when friends and family get introduced. If properly stewarded, they sing your praises high and low. They invest passionately in your vision. This is what creates a community of folks who share something in common and who come together in support of their shared devotion.
Cartoon by Hugh MacLeod, Gaping Void
Once engaged, it’s time to build support. You should be cultivating evangelists who will spread the word among their networks. To achieve this requires: (1) clearly sharing your mission, vision and values (2) with folks who are like-minded and (3) who you knoware like-minded. This is IMPORTANT.  I repeat:  You must do all three things to get to engagement:
While remembering the importance of engagement, we must remember it’s not our end goal. To get that ring on our finger requires creating a yearning that leads to investment. If we want to sustain that investment we must go beyond yearning to create the deeper connection that leads to loyalty.
Which brings us back to love.  When people love you they put you first.  They do everything in their power to make sure you thrive. And if you will be loved, you must also love back.  Having a relationship means relating, and understanding that the engagement really never ends.

Do you put your supporters first?
Please share ways you add a human touch to your cultivation and solicitation strategies and engage continually with your supporters to create enduring and deep connections.


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About Claire

I’m Claire and I want to help you raise more money, reach more people and build long-lasting relationships with your supporters. Take a look in the archives.


  1. Cultivation, cultivation, cultivation! It's the name of our game. Great post, Claire. I wrote a blog a while back about how sometimes NOT making the ask is how to get the most money from a donor. Knowing when is the right time to ask is just as important as anything else in this process. If you're interested in reading my blog post it's at http://amystephan.wordpress.com/2012/04/17/to-ask-or-not-to-ask-that-is-the-question/

  2. SO true. I read into Claire's posts a recurring them of blending Emily Post style old-fashioned manners with new-age spirtual sensibilities. Here are some of my best practices that I'm in some stage of putting into effect. What are your low cost / high return ideas to honor your donors?

    * Thank you calls: organize the beneficiaries and heart of our mission — teens — to make thank you calls to donors, speakers, key volunteers and other stake-holders

    * Go visual — thank you cards, HTML and paper, with still and/or vids of the beneficiaries benefitting

    * Create a field in our CRM for birthdays — and recognize with a email or paper card with a visual. (Visualize: a photo of teens with a cartoon bubble: Happy Birthday _____ (first name)

    * Offer a select list of major donors/and prospectes a: 1:1 briefing on the org's recent strengths, opportunities and challenges:
    – from a board member
    – from one of our teen leaders

    * Create a field in our CRM for "likes:" "likes an annual 1:1 briefing from a board director, likes contact with the teens, dislikes Trustee meetings.

    * Push harder to identify org needs that could be filled by volunteers… and then solicit volunteers to fill the needs. Treat it specifically as a cultivation activity — volunteers are more likely to donate because they ties to the org have been strengthened by their activity, both emotionally and intellectually.

    * Do a better job of opening parts of our teen conferences to donors — as engagement and stewardship events, not as fundraisers. Let the teens sell the program, just be doing what they do.

    The biggest challenges to implementation of these ideas are less to do with our two scarcest resources — money and time — and more to do with vision, culture, intent and leadership.

  3. Love these suggestions Matt! Thank you calls or cards from beneficiaries have significant impact if you're an organization that can manage this without compromising confidentiality. If you're not, then the idea of sending photos with visuals of how their investment is yielding a positive social return is a good alternative. And briefings from people "on the inside" are always great. Whenever I've had clients speak from the heart the room usually fills with tears. And, especially, remembering that volunteers need to be cultivated too — and that volunteering is a super form of involvement and a step along the 'moves management' path.

  4. Thanks Amy. And I absolutely agree regarding the ask. I often say: "I will ask no donor before it's time." That being said, we've no excuse not to ask a donor when it IS time. Sometimes we fall into the trap of endless cultivation without an ask. This is just as bad, if not worse. Donors realize they are being stewarded towards an ask. If you never get to the point, they get frustrated.

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