The Meaning of Connecting the Donor’s Interest with the Agency’s Priorities

In response to last week’s posting one of the readers asked me what it means to “connect the donor’s interests with the agency’s programs and services.” She raised a question about how this can be accomplished and who is responsible for doing it in the organization. This is part of the process of cultivating donors and bringing them closer to the non-profit organization. An integral part of working with contributors and potential donors is to communicate to them an understanding of the agency and strengthening the connection between their interests and concerns and the services the organization provides to the community.

The key aspect is cultivating the relationship with the potential donor and present contributor. Soliciting donations is not just about asking for money and this is one of the biggest mistakes organizations make when they are trying to raise funds. Relationship, relationship, relationship…………… it is all about relationships. The connection can be between the donor and a particular staff member, or it might be the Director or one of the administrative staff of an organization. It might be between the donor and line staff member who has a relationship with the donor and/or a family member of a donor. It is quite possible for their to be a unique connection between a board member and the contributor and this is often new donors become involved in organizations; through their relationships with members of the board or committees of the non-profit.

It really does not matter whether the person reaching out to the donor is a volunteer or a staff member of the organization. The critical piece is the person’s ability to engage with the donor and to understand his/her interest in the people served by the organization and the services provided to the clients. In some situations a contributor may not be knowledgeable about the specifics of the agency or the uniqueness of the services provided. It is the role of the person who is reaching out to establish the relationship to do some background research about who the contributor and his/her family.

When it is the board member or volunteer who is developing the connection to the potential donor then it is appropriate for the professional staff of the organization to assist in developing background information. This does not refer to a “secret document” providing all there is know about the person, but rather having a sense of their professional and volunteer interests, the kinds of organizations the person is interested in, and who on the board has had a some experience with them professionally or in other non-profit organizations.

The purpose of knowing this kind of information is so that there is some understanding of the person’s interests, involvements, and passions; in other words, what kinds of things they care about. Once this is known it becomes easier to have a conversation with them and to find a common denominator linking the donor’s interests with your non-profit organization. It does not mean there has to be a 100% overlap and often the work of the agency representative is to interest the donor in the organization based on their past experience with other organizations.

Of course it is always better to build on positive experiences and to draw the parallels based on what have done in the past and what they are involved with today. However, at times it is advantageous to discuss negative experiences the person may have had with voluntary organizations and to let them know the experience will not be repeated with your organization. A person’s experiences are often the way to understand their perspective and to build on this as you try and develop a foundation for a new relationship with your agency.

During the initial phase of engaging a potential donor or new donor, it is advisable to see if they would be interested in visiting the organization. Nothing speaks louder than seeing organizations and as they are providing services to their clients. It is when they are able to see the services on the ground that they will be able to better identify with the goals and purposes of the agency and its programs. When participating in a site visit of the programs it is the staff responsible for the program that may be the primary person to foster the possible connection between the donor and the services provided by the organization. In this situation each and every staff person and board person plays a key role in talking with the visitor and trying to create a bond between their interest and the activities they are seeing.

Once the visitor begins to identify with the clients, the services, and the assistance being provided then the focus of the discussion should be on how they would like to be involved with the organization. For some people it might be serving on a committee of the board or working as a volunteer in a suitable position. When the discussion begins to turn toward what they would like to do for the agency, then it is appropriate to present a number of options in addition to volunteering their time at which time, the issue of financial support can be discussed.

The idea of strengthening the connection between the potential contributor and the organization does not take hold during a first meeting or a first visit to the programs of the agency. Often it may be a process of several meetings or the result of a series of meetings and discussions. It is most important to be patient, to listen to what the donor’s interests really are and to form a connection between the donor’s interests, the agency’s priorities, and the programs being implemented.

This is all part of the donor cultivation process and the fruits of your efforts will be far better than trying to sell the agency’s product without understanding where the donor wants to make his contribution.

Stephen G. Donshik, D.S.W., is a lecturer at Hebrew University’s International Leadership and Philanthropy Program and has a consulting firm focused on strengthening non-profit organizations and their leadership for tomorrow. Stephen is a regular contributor to eJewish Philanthropy.