4 Ways Fundraisers Sabotage Their Donor Relationships

While every fundraiser knows that at its heart fundraising is about relationships with donors, it’s still easy to get into a few bad habits when it comes to donor relationships. From our conversations with our clients and our wider informal survey of fundraisers, we rounded up some of the bad donor-related habits that fundraisers should leave behind in order to have a successful 2019. 

1. Ignoring major life events or changes.

When a person is giving you money, it’s important to be sensitive to their personal lives and to go out of your way to make sure you don’t offend, or worse, hurt them, when they are experiencing major life events. One client told us about a donor couple who had divorced only to have one of them reach out months later, angry that mail was still addressed to Mr. & Mrs. This kind of hurt can also happen if an organization doesn’t respond to a death or a new marriage. Hopefully you would send condolences immediately after hearing about the death of one’s spouse, but it’s also vital to update information in your database right away and to run the NCOA, creating new constituent records to reflect the new reality of the donor. Be sure too, to create records for spouses correctly so that the addresses are linked. Major life changes can be challenging—but fundraisers can avoid uncomfortable situations by responding sympathetically and with proper record-keeping.

2. Orphaning donors.

One of the most common challenges we hear from clients is that too often when a fundraiser leaves an organization, their donors stay in limbo, unassigned to anyone else in the organization. That means all the work that went into that relationship is gone or severely damaged. It also means that the organization can’t benefit from a cultivated donor base. We know there will be turnover among fundraisers: this year, make it a priority to reassign donors whenever their primary point of contact moves on to a new role.

3. Hoarding donors.

It’s incredibly tempting to hang on to all donors in your portfolio, especially when you know they have capacity to give. However, this is a habit we urge you to reevaluate in 2019. Just as we might encourage a hoarder to get rid of stacks of no-longer-useful stuff,  if someone is completely unresponsive and uninterested in building a relationship with your organization, we suggest moving on from them. Not only is your effort wasted when they clearly do not want to engage with you, you’re also likely eroding the relationship you do have by ignoring their signals. Focus your efforts on donors and potential donors with whom you can build a fulfilling relationship.

4. Forgetting to show curiosity and gratitude.

You’re probably doing this one already, but it’s so important we wanted to be sure to say it again! Never forget to reach out to every donor to thank them for their gift and to ask what motivated it. You’ll be amazed and humbled by some of the stories you’ll hear, and we bet it might become the best part of your job. 

Fundraising is the business of relationships. A new year offers a new chance to build better relationships.

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