Four ways to build genuine donor relationships

4 December 2019
SERIES Ideas, reflections and advice from future think tank leaders 17 items

Getting a new donor is tough and time intensive. But as the think tank space gets increasingly competitive, creating strong donor relations is imperative.

A good donor relationship is founded on genuine engagement and connection. Ideally, there’s even a touch of true friendship; donors shouldn’t be made to feel like cash cows!

Here are four tips for building and maintaining genuine donor relations:

1.  Give the individual touch

Donors are individuals, they are people. So, they will respond well to the personal touch. It’s more than likely that you are one of multiple projects the donor is managing, so using the personal touch and standing out from crowd is a good thing.

One way to do this is to use face-to-face communication wherever possible. If it’s not possible, make sure your emails are personalised – don’t cut and paste from the same old donor template email.

2.  Invite them to your organisational activities

Bring them into the fold of your organisation. This will help build relations with your donor. My think tank, STRIPO in Tanzania, usually involves its important stakeholders – including donors – in its annual dissemination workshop. We also invite them to social events, and always acknowledge their participation and support in an event.

3.  Ask their advice

When you ask donors for advice and counsel, it proves that you value and trust them. You can ask them in person, on the phone or email, but the idea is that you ask them for advice on something other than fundraising.

In STRIPO we seek advice from our major donors during our strategic plan review. And as finance manager, I often ask donors for advice on how to improve the presentation of our budgets and workplans.

4.  Share your successes with them

You should always be sharing your success stories with your donors. And don’t always do it when you’re asking for more money. It’s a way of cultivating relationships and inspiring people with stories of change.

We sometimes get so caught up in thinking about raising money, that we forget how important it is to maintain a positive image in the eyes of our donors. And enabling them to share in your successes is a good way to make them feel a part of your team.

There’s lots of ways to share successes – such as via your website, a newsletter, or the confirmation pages after a gift or grant has been made. If you want to catch your donor’s eye, make them the hero of the story.

STRIPO’s major donor for 10 years was the Think Tank Initiative (TTI). To tell TTI just how awesome they are, we told the story of how they took STRIPO from zero full-time-employed researchers to almost six full-time researchers. It provided us with the support we needed to conduct a review of national systems of innovation, which led to the Tanzanian government deciding to craft a new science, technology and innovation policy, with STRIPO as one of the taskforce members.