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Why Fundraising is Really About Relationship Building

Thank you note in nonprofit's hand
As a global nonprofit seeking funding for your organization, or a social entrepreneur exploring ways to scale your latest concept, you’ve done your homework. You’ve identified your most urgent needs, identified 1-3 thematic priorities, and narrowed down your geographic targets. You decided on what type of funding would meet your needs and made your list of prospective donors. You have all of your fundraising resources in place and you’re ready to roll up your sleeves, prepare proposals, letters of intent, and gather other fundraising materials to meet donor requirements. But what sets you apart from organizations competing for the same funding?
Let’s say your programmatic priority is providing access to clean water to communities in East Asia. You position your organization as one that can design infrastructure, develop sanitation programs, and even craft irrigation plans. A potential donor with interests in funding water projects in East Asia may view your nonprofit as a jack of all trades, and may question where your priorities and true expertise lies. The donor decides to fund a different organization and you’re left wondering why. If only the donor understood your operating model. If only you could reach the donor to explain why your strengths lie in three different areas.

In the end, the donor selected to fund a nonprofit they knew. The grantee's story was familiar. The donor knew that the grantee could deliver on one of the most critical elements of the proposal -- filtration for home use. Even if your organization's irrigation and clean water delivery capabilities would allow you to support filtration for home use, the donor knew with confidence that the selected organization was as well suited as possible to deliver the program, thus ensuring the funding would be more efficiently used, more impactful, many people would benefit at a much faster rate. The donor knew this with confidence because of a long standing relationship with the grantee. The grantee had proven itself and the donor knew it could deliver.

Fundraising in and of itself is a transaction. Money is passed between organizations and a service is delivered. Beyond the transaction, fundraising allows resources to transfer from those "with" to those "without." When grantees understand donor organization's "why", when it's clear what exactly a donor is looking for, the transaction is much easier. When a donor understands the capabilities of the grantee, and how it can deliver on the donor's "why",  fundraising builds relationships, which in turn lead to more funding.

Making connections with the right people inside a donor or partner organization may not always come easy. It takes persistence. Making relationship building a key element of your fundraising strategy, however, is really important.

Here's why: 

  1. People connect with people.  Donors are more likely to connect with an individual whose values, approach and tone align with theirs. Consider forming relationships to understand what makes donors tick. What's their "why?" Often learning from individuals inside funding organizations allows for more success than going in cold with an unsolicited proposal or general inquiry. 
  2. Mutual visions foster a sense of belonging.   By engaging donors and establishing relationships, even those that take time, donors become more invested in the project, and can be more of a staunch advocate for your program.
  3. Relationships build trust. When relationships lead the way, donors and grantees can align quicker and easier. This ensures a smoother process and more resources to those who most need it. 
  4. Creating long term partnerships allow for sustainability of a program. When funding is built on relationships, programs have a better chance of developing a long-term vision for lasting impact. Ultimately the donor AND grantee should build a program that can last long after the funding has ceased. Relationships built on a mutual sense of partnership can help advance the stages of program development and ensure long-term sustainability for the program even after funding has ended.

As you develop your fundraising strategies, make sure you incorporate relationship building with potential donors as part of the foundation. Building strong relationships takes time and patience, but the end result is much better for those who most gain (the recipients!)

​Support each other's "why", find that overlap of interest and vision, and aim high.




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