Friday, June 10, 2016

Strategic Partnerships in Donor Relations

My friend Mary describes donor relations as the octopus of the undersea creature development world. How apropos. We sit in the middle and have tentacles in all areas of our organizations, both within fundraising and outside of it as well. We're also a bit sticky, once someone experiences the true joy of making gratitude and impact possible, it's hard to deny us. Not to mention most of us in donor relations are truly tenacious and stick around longer than the average for front line fundraisers which is currently 16 months. In addition to front line fundraisers, who are our natural partners in donor relations? Here are just a few, please feel free to add more below:

Finance: We rely on our financial teams to help provide accurate information to our donors and ensure transparency in the use of their funds

Advancement Services: We're super users of databases and need our friends in technology and process in order to help us get the most basic thank yous done all the way to complex data requests and process implementation and improvement to better the donor experience.

Research: I always call the folks in research the CIA- they know tons about the donors and when tapped into in a meaningful way can provide true nuggets of knowledge that may go overlooked, it's beyond how much someone's capacity is and onto their preferences and personas are.

Program and Departmental Staff: They are the lifeblood of information we report back to donors. Donors want to hear most from those that use the monies they have so generously granted us, thus these folks are crucial to our success. From financial aid to programming staff to budget managers and administrative staff, these folks know how the money was spent!

Communications and Marketing: All communications are donor relations and all donor relations are communications? Maybe so, but having a great marcomm team who knows how to write for donors and who understands donor focused behavior is key to our success. Included her are the wonderful website folks and graphic designers who make our work come to life!

Leadership: We can't be strategic without help from our leaders, those who guide the way and help us plan the future of our relationships with donors. Anyone who has worked for someone who "gets it" understands the true value of servant donor focused leadership. When you have someone focused on just transactions, it can be bad bad news for donor relations.

Beneficiaries: No one is closer to the gift than those that receive it. Their stories are vital to our successes with donors. Providing a nurturing environment for them to tell their stories and interact directly with donors is crucial.

Board Members and Other Volunteers: These folks are generous beyond fiscal giving. We need to understand their value and the power of them giving their gratitude to donors. A phone call from a volunteer is a magical thing. Involve them in your donor relations planning and execution and get ready to soar!

Who else are your strategic partners? Who can you not live without? I would love to hear your thoughts on those that are essential to the donor experience at your organization. Need to make a partner? Free lunch or goodies always works and hey, how about a hand written note?



  1. Buildings & Grounds Staff, Housekeeping, Catering: I'm mindful of their long hours and make sure I let them know I appreciate their help, they often have better ideas than I do about an event, dinner, etc!

  2. I was going to mention the above as well. In addition, since I work with private foundation funders, I have a great partnership with our contracts and legal folks. I give cookies to all of my partners around the December holidays, and they really appreciate the fact that someone values their work.

  3. Our photographers/videographers. Valuable partners in capturing special moments and messaging for and about our donors. We continually share with them the end-product - photo books, endowment reports etc. - so they can see their work in action and understand the impact their skills and creativity have on our donors.

  4. In higher ed, good relationships with the Provost and academic Deans can be very helpful. They are important partners, particularly when you are trying to implement change in endowed fund reporting, gift acknowledgements and engagement activities for donors.

  5. Such great points! Thank you for contributing!

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