Thursday, June 19, 2014

Donor Relations on the Front Line

When I first arrived on the fundraising landscape there was a large divide between the "front office" and the "back office". Even though the divide still exists in some organizations both physically and philosophically, I am happy to say that donor relations is a key component of changing that paradigm. Donor relations is no longer a reactive, stagnant position in many organizations. One of the things that has changed that is that donor relations professionals are leaving their offices for more than events more and more often. 

Many DR professionals now carry a portfolio of donors and are out on visits regularly. This benefits not just the development operation, but the donor as well. 

What does this look like at your organization? I would love to hear about it in the comments below. Here is what I have seen and what I encourage my clients to do: Get out from behind the desk and thank somebody! Pair up with a front line fundraiser and start taking donors out to say thank you. Then get out there on your own. Start first with local visits, thanking those who are closest but who may not get seen by a gift officer regularly. Then the next time you go to an ADRP conference in Seattle (hint hint) or an academic impressions conference in Phoenix (again, HINT) go and visit donors there. 

Now some of you are saying, won't my fundraisers be upset by me visiting "their" donors? Nope. Not if you talk to them first, start by pairing with them and have your leadership's backing. Everyone I have ever implemented this with was thankful to have another person to visit folks who might not get seen often. Who are those folks? Planned giving donors, donors in a multi-year pledge, mid level donors and others who may live more remotely. What can you do to help bridge the gap? Build trust and demonstrate that you're trying to help the overall organization and the donor who needs the attention. There are way more donors than there are fundraisers, the numbers are on your side!

Remember these things: Take notes and fill out a wonderful contact report on the visit, this will help everyone. Follow up with a thank you note to the donor and an email to their primary prospect manager to let them know about the visit. Ask for more, you can do it and it will help you get a better pulse on your donors and their needs. It's very difficult to build a donor relations programs if you're not exposed to donors regularly. 

So, tell me more! What does your portfolio look like? What are the challenges with this you might face? How can we help each other? I look forward to your comments.



  1. Currently we are definitely a "back office" operation, but I keep hearing the desire to move us to the front lines. We are starting to have a lot of our back office responsibilities moved off our plate so I look forward to the days of making visits! Thank you for all of your insight! You truly are a valuable resource to our profession :)

  2. We have a small shop and large donor portfolio to manage. That means that I am responsible for donor relations while managing a portfolio of middle donors. It is absolutely invaluable. My time and conversations with the folks in my portfolio helps me to better understand what our donors are thinking and how we can improve. It is a lot to manage and I often wish there were more hours in the day, but don't we all? I wouldn't trade that donor interaction for the world.