Turning Donors into Friends Who Care

Boy & His DogThere is a house for sale in my neighborhood. The realtor is an old friend. I walk past his sign every day, think of Jim, and smile.

On my walk this morning, the wind had knocked the hanging sign off its hooks. I stopped, re-hung it, and walked on.

Instantly, I wondered, “If that wasn’t Jim’s sign, would I have fixed it?” And I confess the answer was that I may not have done so.

I smiled, thinking that a different realtor, at a different house, with a different sign – she probably cares as much about the properties she sells as Jim cares about his clients. And her friends and family probably care about her as much as I care about Jim. Yet I might  not have taken the time from my morning walk to stop and fix her sign, simply because I do not know her. I don’t care about her. But I do care about my friend Jim.

Another story comes to mind – I believe it was one of Saul Alinsky’s – about the importance of connecting. Here is my recollection of the example Alinsky gave:

If I were scheduled to give a talk, and I died prior to giving that talk, there might be a notice in the paper. You might think, “Saul Alinsky – I was to going to go hear him. What a shame.” And that would be that.

But if I had given that talk, and you had been in the audience, and then I had died afterwards, your thoughts would be very different. “Oh goodness no! I just saw him last week. He talked about this and about that – he was wonderful! I cannot believe he is gone!” You would have felt a connection. I would be the same person, and I would still be dead. But your feelings would be different.

Connection matters. And the more engaged that connection, the more it matters.

Engaged connections are what make us act. Engaged connections are what make us care more about the speaker we saw – even though he was only a guy on a stage – than the speaker who died before we could see him. Engaged connections are the difference between the likelihood of fixing my friend Jim’s sign vs. the sign of a stranger.

Engaged Connections Are About Friendship
Here is what I wrote in the introduction to my Community Enagement workbook, FriendRaising, about the ‘transactional’ definition of friendship, as used in the traditional ‘nonprofit’ sector:

The transactional view of friendship [states], “If you give us money, we will be your friend. If we think you will give us money, we will court you as our friend. If you fail to give us money, we will eventually stop calling you. The more money you give us, the more friendly we will be.”

Sadly for our organizations, our efforts do not have friends. We may have donors. We may have attendees at an event. We may even have a great ROI on a mailing.

But we do not have friends.

Friends are there for you, no matter what. Friends volunteer. They make connections for you. They lend you their truck. Friends do all that and more because they feel a connection to you and to the work you are doing to make your community a better place to live.

And yes, friends will also give you money.

But just as in real life, that’s not what a friend is – someone who gives you money. It is someone who cares. Someone who would feel pain if something bad happened to the work you are trying to do. Someone who feels that your mission is their mission. Someone who will work to ensure that mission is accomplished!

The truth is that a direct mail piece cannot make a friend. To make a friend, you need to make a real live engaged connection.

Turning Donors Into Friends
Today, right now – list all your donors. Sort them by dollar gift. Take the top 1/4 of those donor names, and set them aside. If you are like most organizations, you are already engaging those folks plenty. (If you give us money, we will be your friend. The more money you give us, the more friendly we will be…)

Now look at the other 3/4 of your existing donors – the ones you pretty much ignore except to send them more mailings asking for more money.

And starting from the bottom up – yup, from the $5 donor and the $10 donor – call each one of them, until you are done. Take the week. Take the month. Call each one and say Thank You.

Call and ask if they would like to take a tour of your facility.

Call and ask if they would like to have coffee, so you can learn more about their feelings about your community’s issues, and your community’s potential.

If yours is an arts or education organization – perhaps a museum or a symphony – call and ask if they would like free passes to your latest exhibit, or your latest performance. You weren’t sold out anyway, so why not show the people who care about you that you care back?

NOT because they will give you more money. But because that’s what friends do.

Friends say thank you.
Friends call when they DON’T want anything.
Friends give as much as they take.
Friends call just to say, “I am glad you are in my life.”

Money alone cannot make your community an incredible place to live. To truly accomplish your mission – in a way that allows you to say, “We have created the conditions we dreamed of for our community” – that will take far more than just having donors.

It will take having true friends.

3 thoughts on “Turning Donors into Friends Who Care”

  1. This is an exceptional article, and one that our experience at the Fairfield Arts and Convention Center fully bears out. We were introduced to Friendraising by a new board member who is a development professional. It made all the sense in the world, and we have used the idea to great effect. Thank you for your clear explanation.

  2. I agree–and I coach nonprofits to do the same thing. Figure out how you can treat everyone with respect, caring and listen to what is important to them. If you are a small nonprofit, that can be your gift–you can connect to people in a way that larger organization’s rarely can or do.

    I coach conservation organizations and work with them to stop talking about land protection all the time. Instead, start listening to what is important to people in the community, and then ask, “how can conservation help?”. Listening and being responsive. Establishing a Culture of Appreciation.


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