A Relationship Map that Leads Somewhere

by Barbara Maduell

Does this story sound familiar?

Board members embrace the idea of launching – or growing – your organization’s major gifts program. They get the importance of donor-centered, peer-to-peer fundraising and are ready to partner with staff to establish and deepen relationships with top prospects. The systems are in place, the case has been written, and now … it’s time to “map relationships.” You arrive at a board meeting with a list of your Top 100 donors, and ask board members to put their initials next to “anyone they know.” The list travels around the room, and comes back to you 90 minutes later, BLANK. If you’re lucky, five donors have initials squiggled alongside their names.

What happened?

Were your board members fearful, fickle, or floundered? Here’s a thought: maybe they didn’t know anyone on the list, or, if they did, they didn’t know what would be expected of them. Assume the best of intentions and consider the following strategies that will make it easier to leverage the board’s passion for your mission.

How to Review Donor Lists with your Board

  • When asking volunteers to review a donor list, be crystal clear about what that means. Consider adding three simple columns to your spreadsheet and inviting them to check the one that fits best:
  • I’ll take the lead in bringing Donor closer to (insert your organization’s here)
  • I’ll open the door to Donor
  • I have helpful information to share about Donor
  • Clarify that establishing “who knows whom” is an important first step, and that board members don’t need to have a next step in mind. That’s where the support of staff comes in: to work with each board member to determine the appropriate action for each donor, whether that’s a personal note of thanks, an invitation to tour, or perhaps an opportunity to visit privately with the CEO about your organization’s challenges and opportunities.
  • Include addresses and places of work on the list. A board member might be more comfortable building a new relationship with someone they don’t know when they live in the same neighborhood or are employed in the same field.

And finally, consider keeping the list out of the boardroom, as it can distract from more pressing agenda items. Instead, schedule a time with at least some of your board members to go over donor lists one-on-one. Chances are they’ll better understand the value of mapping relationships, get creative on how they can help engage with donors, and – best of all – add some prospects!

Barbara Maduell, CFRE, is a former development professional in Seattle’s Jewish community; she is currently a senior consultant with Collins Group.