By Amy Liefer, President, Prosper Advising, Inc.

If you look around the nonprofit world these days you are likely to catch several buzzwords flying about. Words and phrases like millennial, ROI, amplify, infographics, and collective impact are popping up in conversation and blogs everywhere. Even buzzword is a buzzword. Sometimes I think we – nonprofit executives – make things too hard. Fundraising and development aren’t about any of those buzzwords; it’s about relationships.

I don’t care what aspect of development you are talking about – special events, major gifts, grant writing, social media, board and staff development – the one thing that it always boils down to is relationships. I’m never shocked to learn that organizations are looking for a silver bullet of sorts; a magic cure all answer that will bring money in the door. While there is no such thing as a quick fix in fundraising, the answer that will open those doors and bring money to the table is relationships.

We are family

If you want to be successful in fundraising you have to build relationships. It doesn’t matter how big or small, how old or new, how successful or not your organization is right now. To become successful and stay successful you have to build relationships. You have to look at your house and evaluate your current relationship with donors, volunteers, staff, and board members. When assessing your relationships you need to ask yourself three questions:

  • How does this relationship benefit the organization?
  • How does this relationship benefit the other person?
  • What do you want from this relationship in the future?

Based on your answers to those questions you know where you need the most work. Maybe you’re spending too much time nurturing a relationship that isn’t ultimately benefiting the organization. If your donors aren’t benefiting from your relationship, you may need to work on stewardship ideas. And most importantly, discovering where the relationship is in its cycle can help you plan for the future.

Easy as 1, 2, 3

Determining where a relationship is in its life cycle is imperative to knowing how to nurture it and what to expect from it. Relationships have three stages: the beginning, the middle, the end.

Relationships that are just beginning need a lot of nurturing. There needs to be a discovery period about what both parties want and expect from the relationship. There needs to be time and energy given to build trust. And there needs to be cultivation.

Established relationships don’t need as much time for discovery but still need attention. Cultivation is an ongoing process and doesn’t stop until the relationship does. Not every relationship needs the same amount of attention, but continuing to practice good stewardship and communication is imperative.

All good things must come to an end and relationships are no different. There is a time when all donors, volunteers, board members, etc. will decide they need to move on to something else. If they don’t decide that on their own, it’s likely that you will decide that for them at some point. Knowing when a relationship has come to that stage saves you from pouring time and energy into something that isn’t going to benefit anyone in the end.

If you build it they will come

Once you’ve evaluated your current relationships, you need to look outside the box at who you don’t have a relationship with but need one. As relationships move through their life cycle, you will need new relationships to replace the old. You don’t create major donors or go-to-volunteers overnight. Prospecting is just as important as management.

Your current relationships are the best place to find new ones. Those who are the most supportive and excited about your mission can sell your organization better than anyone. So quit telling yourself that it’s too much to ask your board members to recruit an event chair or your largest donor to help solicit their next door neighbor. Asking people close to your organization to bring people to the table isn’t a burden or intrusive, it’s how we survive.

Relationships are the closest thing we have to a magic wand in fundraising and development. They can open doors, bring money to the table, and help put organizations on the map. So next time you sit down to craft a strategic plan, forget the buzzwords and start with your relationships.

Is your organization utilizing relationships to build up your organization? Tell me about it below! Struggling with prospecting for volunteers or donors? Contact me and let me show you how Prosper Advising can help.