How to build a deep Major Donor relationship

One of the questions major gifts executives often ask me is: ‘How do I build a deep, meaningful relationship with a prospect?’

The first point is to say is that it is really important to do this! Until a potential philanthropist knows you, trusts you, has met your leadership, has been listened to and been offered a good project match it is almost impossible to secure a £10,000+ or even £100,000+ gift.

The key point I want to make today is that to find that right project match you need to get to know your potential donor thoroughly and in that process he/she will also get to know you.

To understand your donor it can be broken down into 3 key areas:
1. Philanthropic interest
2. Interests
3. Values

So firstly you have to listen to your donor’s philanthropic interest. In initial conversations you may not be able to tell. It takes time.

You need to ask lots of questions about charities they are connected to already, charities where they have had a great experience and why and what is important to them.

If you still can’t get to the bottom of this then talk about different aspects of your work and watch carefully to see which ones they light up about – for example they suddenly smile, ask questions and become more animated

Knowing a donor’s philanthropic passion and matching that with the right project, theme or aspect of your work equals a successful result. Your donor wants to make a difference in the world – in the way they want to do it, help them to achieve that goal.

Secondly, know their interests. By this I mean their personal interests. Are they keen on Japanese food, stamp collecting, vintage cars, interior design, golf, rugby? Find out what these are and encourage them to talk about them. You don’t have to go and play golf with them (it might come in time) but ask them about it. Find common ground and show interest in them as people.

Thirdly, truly understand their motivations and values. What is really important to them and why? Do they want to involve their family? What motivates them to get up in the morning? Where is their heart….. as well as their head. What does ‘living life to the full’ look like for them.

It takes time to build a relationship and friendship and it needs to be authentic. It can take 6 months, 9 months of regular contact or more. You need to demonstrate a genuine interest in them and their family’s wellbeing. This is the only way you will understand what your donor wants to achieve through your charity.

Just to add here that if you find there isn’t a match and the donor is more interested in other charities, then don’t be afraid to let them go. It is pointless to pursue a relationship where there isn’t common ground. It will not be rewarding for you or the donor and time is wasted. There are plenty of potential philanthropists who will be interested in your cause. Look for that match.

What is your experience? Reply here …..

Ruth is the principal and founder of Ascent Philanthropy, author of two books and passionate about helping non-profits with their major gift programmes by offering advice for introducing a new major gift programme or enhancing the productivity of the philanthropy team

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