Show Me That You Know Me — 5 Things You Must Do To Sustain Donor Relationships

Dog and bird face off

Show me you know me

My recent post about showing your donors you know them* through personalization struck a big chord.  Folks have asked for more tips on the subject of building and sustaining meaningful, loyal relationships, so I’ve taken the liberty of sharing this article originally published in The Bridge. The 5 tips are towards the bottom, so scroll down if you’re impatient. Okay…

Let’s pretend you and your donor are not connecting meaningfully right now. You’re not sure why. Could it be that your donor’s portfolio is down… their salary was cut… they feel financially insecure… they’re worried for their kids… they’ve been let down by politicians… they’re just feeling cynical and/or hopeless? For whatever reason, things aren’t singing between you and them. They seem to have other priorities.

So, you decide to go to couples counseling to reinvigorate the relationship. The therapist makes a wise observation: Sometimes in life, one partner feels strong; the other less strong. In such times, the stronger partner has resources to support the weaker partner. Other times, neither partner feels they have coping resources. During these times, we have to depend more on ourselves, be patient, and accept that our partner is not currently in a strong position – even though we really need their support.

We’re in turbulent times. Studies show giving to be sluggish. As a result, donor centered fundraising has never been as important as it is now. Why? Because people are feeling a need to be nurtured. In other words: Ask not what your donors can do for you, but what you can do for your donors.

You can connect more deeply with donor partners and find out what they’re thinking and feeling. Donor relationships do not remain constant over time without significant work and ongoing communication. Just like a relationship with a significant other, things evolve. They change. They grow (or they die). Do you know what your donors care most about right now? Do you know if they perceive you to be delivering it to them?

You can do everything in your power to show donor partners you: (1) seek to know and understand them on a deeply personal level; (2) can be relied upon to be completely trustworthy as stewards of their investment, and (3) will always seek to partner honestly and effectively with them to assure a win/win for all involved parties.

You can demonstrate to your partners their significance to you, especially during times of stress and uncertainty. This is done by assuring relevance in our messaging. If our communications fail to connect with our target audiences, then we’re adding no value to their lives. So why would they choose to add value to ours? The best way to discern relevance is by asking and listening. We’d do this in the therapist’s office with a spouse. We’d do it over coffee with a friend. We must do this socially – in person, on the phone, at events, on our website, through our emails and via social media – with our donors.

You can engage in strategies to understand your constituents’ values, interests, desires, worries, etc. so that your messages and calls to action resonate with them. Can you say with confidence that a donor will read your message and think to themselves: Yes, that’s exactly how I’m feeling? If not, here are five things you need to do:

  1. Use your networks to get to know your constituents better. Start with those closest to you – your board, volunteers and clients. Perhaps create a brief 5-question survey they can respond to online. Or call up 20 donors (or alumni or parents or grateful patients) randomly to find out what is connecting them to you right now – and what may be pulling them away. Or use a survey widget on Facebook or your website to unearth your donor’s satisfaction with their last three interactions with you. It’s not for nothing that it’s called ‘networking.’
  2.  Capture what you learn about your constituents in your database. There’s nothing worse than someone telling you (or your boss or your board chair) about a specific interest they have, and then you talking to them later and clearly being clueless. If you don’t have: (1) a database that enables you to easily record and retrieve information about interests, concerns, donor demographics, event attendance, volunteer and philanthropic participation; (2) staff assigned to record/retrieve this information (including debriefing other staff and volunteers), and (3) the ability to query and segment so you can hone your outreach, then allocate some resources to this function and consider getting a new database. Your database is the foundation of your ability to sustain lasting relationships with supporters.
  3.  Pay attention to what’s being said about your organization online. If people are posting about you on Facebook, see what they’re saying. If they’re tweeting about their volunteer or client experience, do you know about it? Are they leaving reviews on Yelp? Posting to YouTube? You must allocate some staff time to research what people are saying about you.
  4.  Pay attention to your most visited web pages and most clicked on links. This lets you know what parts of your mission resonate with people. If all your newsletters are replete with stories about programs very few folks care about, you have a real disconnect. Don’t rely on what you knew was true five years ago, or even one year ago. People’s interests evolve and change in our fast-paced world.
  5.  Use the information you’ve gathered in communication with donors – for group, targeted sub-group and individual messaging. Whenever you write something intended for broad distribution, you have to go with averages. If you know that 75% of your constituents are interested in Program A, 22% in Program B, and 3% in Program C you’re probably going to want to write about them in roughly those same percentages. But for folks who care about Program C, you’ll be missing the mark most of the time. So consider a targeted appeal to those folks that shows them you know them. And thank former donors specifically, letting them know that you know which program they supported with their previous gift.

The days of donors simply acting altruistically are in the past. The present and future belongs to organizations who actively embrace strategic donor relationship-building management. What are you doing to show your donors you know them?

*Years ago Penelope Burk’s groundbreaking donor-centered research revealed that donor’s most cared about being known and personally valued. The mantra she came up with was “Show me that you know me.”

This means two things:

(1) KNOW them, and (2) SHOW them.

One out of two isn’t enough. That’s a failing grade.

Written by this author, a version of this article first appeared in the AFP Golden Gate Chapter newsletter, The Bridge, January 2012

Photo: Flickr, Ferran Pestana

Opt In Image
Get Clairification via email and receive free fundraising and nonprofit marketing coaching you can use!

As an added BONUS, you’ll get my popular “Donor Thank Calls E-Book + Script” for free.

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. […] The Clarification blog with five things to do to sustain donor relationships. […]

Speak Your Mind


CommentLuv badge