How to Build Long-term Relationships with Donors?

Cordial relations always facilitate yielding better results, be it at home or at work.

Most people usually don’t need much advice on managing personal and individual relations. There however, is great scope for learning the basics of improving business relations, as relationship building is an important aspect of the success of any business.

With organizations (especially corporates and businesses) realizing the importance of a healthy relationship with clients, a special position of Relationship Manager was created. These relationship managers are responsible for improving the bond between the organization and its clients. Along with improving relations, the relationship manager also plays an important role in managing disputes, improving the company’s rapport and conflict resolution between customers and the company.

Most often the entire process of relationship management is carried out through efficient communication and implementing measures to improve customer service.

Now comes the important question:

Does an NGO/CSO really need to learn relationship management? I am sure many of you might be wondering, that you don’t run a business, so what is the need to learn relation management techniques?

The answer is simple, be it an NGO or a CSO, as long as you are working with humans you need to understand the basics of relationship management. Many NGOs are so busy carrying out their social work, that they forget to build good relations with their donors. We, understand that your primary aim is to work towards your organizations mission, but for achieving these goals you need donors, therefore, understanding the basics of donor relationship management is a necessity.

This guide will help you learn the basics of Donor Relation Management.

1. What is Donor Relation Management?

Donor relationship management (DRM) is the process in which an organization strengthens its relationship with donors to enhance donor engagement and donor retention.

Most often NGOs hire fundraising officers or consultants to take care of resource mobilization but neglect the area of donor retention or relation building. You don’t have to hire any expert to manage your relations with Donors, all you need is a clearly defined plan and possess effective communication tools. With the advances in technology there are several options to manage and groom your relations with donors. Through improved communication channels, you can build a good rapport with the donors.

DRM is a comprehensive approach that considers a lot of factors, taking note of which facilitates long-term donor engagement leading to sustainable resources and funding opportunities.

2. Methodology for effective DRM

Engaging donors and developing long-term relation with them is often a challenge for most organizations. Following the methodology given below, will ease the process of donor engagement. You need to understand that there are various stages of donor relationship building and as you move along these stages, the relationship between the donor and your organization grows stronger.

Stage 1: Initial Contact with a new donor

Being the first step towards donor relation building, the initial meetings are really important. Remember, the first impression is often the last impression, so be very careful while you communicate with donors. Being professional right from the beginning will help in creating a worthy image and will lay the foundation of a strong relationship.

Remember to use the following tips during your first few meetings:

  • Enough research has been carried out: Make sure you have done your research and basis it you have approached the donor. You have identified the areas where the donor is willing to invest and have accordingly developed a proposal. Approaching a donor without proper research will only lead to a wasted opportunity. This will also impact your future interactions, as they may consider your organization to be a non-serious entity.

  • Proposal is as per the donor requirements: You have drafted the proposal keeping in mind donor requirements (priority area, geographic scope, funding volume, formats, etc.). Proposal writing is an art and should be dealt with utmost care and precision. Mention clearly how your project tackles a particular problem, how you would utilize the funds etc. it is very important for the donor to know about the impact their donation will create, so develop a proposal that clearly spells out outcomes and impacts that you expect.

  • Represent your organization confidently: When discussing your organization, you have to be passionate and at the same time very confident about the things that your organization does. Make sure that all communication with the donor is done by a staff member who has good communication and interpersonal skills.

  • Carry Organization Brochure: You won’t be able to explain everything about your organization during the short meeting, in which case it is a good practice to provide the donor with your organization brochure. This will help the donor understand your organization better.

  • Send a follow-up mail: Once you are back from the meeting, instantly send a follow-up mail. Thank the donor for their valuable time, along with a summary of the key issues discussed during the meeting. In case the donor has asked you for some documents, photographs, etc. share them without much delay.

Stage 2: Receiving the Donation/Grant

Your organization has successfully raised funds from a donor. It certainly is great news, as your hard work has paid off! This stage is very important in the process of relationship building, your donor has invested money in your project and you would surely want the donor to fund your efforts in the future as well.

Many organizations completely fail to utilize this opportunity. The donor has shown trust in your organization and it is your responsibility to enhance this trust. To make the most of this opportunity, follow these tips:

  • Acknowledgment: Immediately acknowledge the donor for funding your project. This can be done either through an email or a thank you card.

  • Inception meeting: This is often a good way to invite your donors during the launch of the project. During the meeting introduce the donor to the key staff members (program managers, finance officer) who will be implementing the project. During the meeting make sure you discuss the agreement so that you and the donor at the same page. This initial meeting will help you in discussing the implementation plan with the donor and also get an idea of donor expectations.
  • Communication Plan: Make a communication plan in accordance with the agreement. In the plan clearly mention about

1.The communication channels to be used (email, mail, fax)

2.The staff members who will contact the donors

3.The communication schedule (when and what reports are to be sent to the donor)

The communication plan should be then circulated amongst key staff members so that each one knows their role.

  • Fund Utilization: Use the funds in a proper manner and as per the agreed budget. In case there is any alteration, immediately communicate it to the donor. Keep track of all the expenses and share financial reports with the donor as per the agreement.

  • Reporting: These are critical documents that show the project’s accomplishments and deliverables. Make sure that your reports are based on actual results and represent true facts. Avoid factual errors, grammatical mistakes, and incorrect details. Along with ensuring the quality of the reports also ensure that they are submitted as per the deadlines.
  • Feedback from donors: It is always a good practice to engage the donors during the project implementation phase and take their feedback. Your team might be an expert in dealing with field issues, but there is no harm in requesting the donor to visit the field and give his/her suggestions for improvisation. This gives donors first-hand experience in the field and they also feel valued.

Stage 3: Engaging Donors

Most organizations write to donors only when there is a funding requirement, you have to remember that donors are not money-minting machines. Engaging donors even when you are not looking for immediate funding is a very good practice for nurturing your relationship. Some ways of engaging donors in a regular way are:

  • Inviting in events: If there is a marathon or a rally that you are organizing, invite the donors to participate in it. You should invite donors during relevant workshops, conferences, and dinners, this gives them the opportunity to understand your organization’s work in a better way.

  • Recognizing donors: You can publish the names of your donors in annual reports, newsletters, or social media pages. Getting public recognition is a great way to acknowledge their support.

  • Engaging on social media platforms: There are several ways to engage through social media platforms, you should possibly see which works best for you and your donors. Most donors are likely to have their social media pages where they update activities etc., you can like their page, tag them in photos of project work, or give comments on recent activities.

  • Sharing newsletters and magazines: You can share your monthly newsletters and annual magazines with donors. This not only helps you to keep in contact with them but also provides information about project activities etc.

  • Engagement as volunteers or Advisors: As the donor has funded your project there are high chance that he/she may be passionate about the cause. You should invite them to volunteer with you or join as an advisor.

Over the years, the field of donor relations has grown considerably and thus NGOs need to update their current skills to adapt to changes.

Hope with this guide you are able to groom your relationship with donors and succeed in enhancing donor retention.

This article was published in Funds for NGOS

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