Solid long-term fundraising strategy is based upon the development and strengthening of relationships over time. How, then, do we build and solidify better human relationships that will lead to a mutually rewarding partnership with our constituents?
The answer to this question is basic. Building better relationships is done through an ongoing series of little things—not one big thing. While a prospective major donor or board member may surface because of some significant event or occurrence, the relationship that develops with them is more a function of what happens after you appear on their radar screen.
It has been my experience that people are drawn to other people who make them feel comfortable, and, perhaps even more importantly, people are drawn to folks who make them feel important.
Who would not be impressed, when going on a job interview, to have the potential employer make arrangements for first-class air travel, and limousine service to their corporate headquarters? Would it not impress you further, to be hosted for lunch in the CEO’s private dining room? And, afterwards to be invited to a private dinner in his home that evening with just he and his wife and you and yours? It could go on and on and on, perhaps making your knees weak at some point. Would you be impressed?
Now that example is on a grand scale, but it makes this point. When the CEO has his mind set on a particular executive, he is determined to do his utmost to get his man. How? By making him feel both comfortable and very important.
Most of us cannot provide such extravagant incentives. Yet, we all have tools at our disposal. One tool we have available is better communication—better communication makes us all more comfortable. And the right type of communication can make us feel very important too. In our previous example of the potential new executive, how do you think this executive would feel if he got a personal handwritten note of appreciation from the CEO just 48 hours after returning home from the trip? Would he feel valued and important? I suspect so.
How can you take advantage of this technique? Take up the lost art of sending handwritten notes. Write to your boss to thank her for her understanding, write your board members to express your heartfelt appreciation for their generosity and hard work. Write your employees and colleagues to tell them you have noticed their contributions and to encourage them to maintain their “extraordinary level of performance.” Tell people the difference they are making and then sit back and watch the difference you can make through your encouragement.
My mother died two years ago, and I miss her more everyday. Some things she taught me will never die, as I am teaching them to my children and they will teach them to theirs. One thing Momma always taught me was “you can never thank somebody too much. She also used to say, “if you can’t thank someone in person, and even if you can, you should thank them with a nice handwritten note.” My friends, if you remember these two pieces of sage advice, and start writing to people to express your feelings of encouragement and appreciation, you will feel the energy you create and begin to see your relationships blossom and grow.
Better communication will transform your relationships. One further use for this is when you have to send out many typewritten letters to your constituents for whatever reason. Always try to scribble a personal note or “hello” in to the sidebar. It will lead to writer’s cramp, but it will solidify your relationships and lead to more fundraising success.
Remember, make all those with whom you come in contact feel both comfortable and important. Everything else will take care of itself. Good Luck!
David G. Phillips is president of Custom Development Solutions, Inc. (CDS). CDS is among the most sought after fundraising consulting firms specializing in the strategic planning and tactical execution of capital campaigns for non-profits throughout the United States and Canada. If you have a fundraising question, please call CDS at 800-761-3833 or send an email to firstname.lastname@example.org.