Think about the relationships in your life — the ones with those you’re closest to, or who you most enjoy engaging with. Do these relationships focus on key milestones like events, or visits if they don’t live nearby? Or do those activities just provide added value to a relationship that flows naturally, following the rhythm of your conversations and lives?

If you’re like many of us, your personal life is full of this more natural relationship style. So why is it that so many of us in fundraising are wed to a style that instead creates donor relationships based on external opportunities rather than natural, internal momentum?

We know what a typical donor strategy looks like. It’s built around standard milestones like events and regional visits. But what if we took a page from our personal relationships? We could decrease our reliance on these tools to engage with donors in a more authentic pace, capitalizing on every natural opportunity to engage them further with the mission they care about.

What does this look like?

  • Virtual meetings, regardless of where people live
  • Inviting natural partners and champions into these virtual meetings to bring additional voice to the conversation
  • Smaller, more intimate lab tours, facility tours, and program discussions that are easily replicated to engage more people in invigorating discussions
  • Faster follow up on discussions in meetings to more quickly build momentum
  • Not relying on a once-per-quarter “what do I do now” process, and instead using the inspiration and alignment from each conversation to take the next step immediately

The benefits of such an approach would be numerous. Relationships would be more authentic, allowing you to craft more effective engagement strategies. Relationships would move more quickly, as they don’t wait on external events but only internal momentum — having the potential to significantly reduce the model of 12–18 months to a major gift.

We saw this approach work in the midst of stay-at-home orders, as in-person events and face-to-face meetings were cancelled. We spent time on the phone with donors, and we scheduled virtual meetings for whenever we, or the donor, wanted (in alignment with our strategy) … not during a regional visit we take every quarter. The approach we took during COVID may be becoming less and less necessary, but that hasn’t changed its efficacy. We built some wonderful new skills that brought both vulnerability and authenticity to our donor relationships.  And in doing so, we saw new heights of joy from our donors.

Take this opportunity to consider your strategies. Can you change those where external milestones are the foundation your strategy is built on, and instead make those milestones value-adds that enhance a natural conversation? Doing so can allow you to build more authentic, and more fruitful, relationships — and isn’t that what we’re all here for?

Share your tips for more authentic donor relationships in the comments!

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