One of my favorite ways to build deeper relationships with donors is to call them to ask for their advice. I may not need the advice and I may not follow the advice, but the simple act of giving you their ideas and input will make your donors feel more invested in your work than ever before.
Your donors want to feel like they are part of your non-profit’s “team.” Being part of your team makes donors want to give more, to refer more people to your organization, and to get more actively involved in volunteer efforts for your cause. Nothing makes donors feel like part of your team more than asking them for their advice and counsel.
Helping Donors and Prospects to Feel Invested in Your Work
One of your primary goals as a fundraiser is to get your current donors to feel more invested in your work… and to get prospects to adopt your vision and make their first investment into your mission and programs. When donors and prospects give your team advice and feedback, they are making a small investment in your success. They start to take ownership for your outcomes and want you to succeed. For this reason, their investment of time and advice will often lead to a financial investment into your work.
Do You Have to Act on the Advice?
Many fundraisers are wary of asking donors for advice because they worry that they will get bad advice… or at least, advice that they don’t want to act on. That’s ok. You don’t have to act on the ideas and suggestions of your donors. Just because a donor suggests a new program for your non-profit doesn’t mean you have to create it.
Instead, listen carefully to your donors’ suggestions, ask questions, and thank them for their counsel. If you decide to take action based on their advice, let them know. If you decide not to act on their counsel, that’s ok too. Reach out to them to thank them for their time and advice and let them know you will continue to consider their ideas, and look forward to speaking with them again soon.
How to Ask Donors for Advice
When you ask donors for advice, it will generally be through a phone call or as part of a face-to-face meeting. Because these personal cultivation tactics are more time consuming than simply sending out a letter or e-mail, I recommend that you reserve this strategy for major or mid-level donors. You can ask your donors for advice as part of a larger cultivation meeting, or as part of a stand-alone conversation solely focused on asking for ideas and counsel.
There are lots of different types of advice you can ask for. If your donor / prospect has unique knowledge that could benefit your non-profit, you could ask for help in his or her area of expertise. For example, if you have a donor who works in advertising, you could call her to ask for some ideas on getting more exposure for your organization.
Alternately, you can ask for more generalized advice about your non-profit’s programs, mission, fundraising, etc. For example, if you have a donor who always attends your events, call him to ask for his thoughts on how to make your events more appealing and what you can be doing to make the events more exciting. Or, you can ask a donor whether your materials are accurately explaining your mission and programs to prospective donors and volunteers.
When asking for advice, be direct. Say things like, “What can we be doing better?” “How can we reach other donors like you?” “How can our website be more useful for visitors?” Try to work some advice-gathering into every one of your donor meetings, to turn them into two-way conversations instead of just one-way updates from the organization.
Other Types of Two-Way Donor Communications
As noted above, it is important to try and make your donor relationships two-way conversations instead of simply being your non-profit “talking at” your donors.
Asking for advice is time consuming, so it will generally be reserved for major and mid-level donors. For lower-dollar donors, consider sending out surveys via e-mail and snail mail… this is the mass-communication equivalent of asking for advice, and can be a great way to strengthen donor relationships, particularly if you follow-up on the surveys with semi-customized thank you notes for each survey respondent.
This year, make asking for donor feedback and advice a priority for your non-profit. Getting your donors to invest their knowledge and experience into your organization via their advice is a great way to strengthen your organization’s relationship with them, and will lead to more and bigger gifts for your non-profit later down the line.
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