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In A Relationship? How’s it working out for the actual donor?

There’s been a great deal of interest in how best to build relationships with donors enhancing the quality of their experience and through that the level of support they might be willing to offer.

Many fundraisers claim to be adopting the approach and adopting it across their database. But are they really, could they be doing it better and is relationship fundraising necessarily always the optimal approach?

During his session “Relationship Fundraising: Where do we go from here?,” Professor Adrian Sargeant, director of the Centre for Sustainable Philanthropy at the University of Plymouth, outlined three elements for practicing relationship fundraising developed with his team at the university.

1) Relationship fundraising isn’t an appropriate technique for every fundraising context. Sometimes all that is needed is a decent quality of service. It only works where donors are actually desirous of a mutually rewarding relationship.

It therefore “works well in “high involvement” contexts where the decision to give is in some sense important to the donor and expressive of who they are,” he said. It also works where the organization can genuinely tailor the nature of their approach, responding to individual needs and preferences.

2) Many organizations claim to be practicing relationship fundraising when in fact they are not. Said Sargeant, “many fundraisers believe they genuinely care about the relationships they have with their supporters, yet when you ask them what metrics they employ to assess the quality of their fundraising it is all about the money.”

Not a single measure of the quality of the relationship from the donor’s perspective is employed. Reward fundraisers for the money they raise and you create a very different experience from one where the fundraiser is remunerated (in part) for how good they make their donors feel, he said.

3) Many fundraisers spend a considerable block of time thinking how best to communicate need in a way in which donors will find inspiring and compelling. There’s nothing wrong with that, according to the researchers. But to employ a relationship fundraising approach fundraisers should be at least as much concerned with planning how they will make their donors feel when they communicate and whether additional value might be created for the donor in the exchange.

Session co-presenter Ian MacQuillin, also of the University of Plymouth, stressed that “what adds value for the donor will vary at different stages in the relationship. Early on, they are concerned with the maximum possible impact for the beneficiary, while with the passage of time they care more about what that impact means for them as an individual how it contributes to their sense of living a fulfilled life.” So, the focus of communication needs to shift.

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