Building trust with donors

Building trust with donors is much like asking someone to describe what salt tastes like without using the word "salt" in your explanation. You know what it feels like when trust is present or absent, but it is often difficult to define. For this article, let us define trust as confidence in each other's motives, actions, and character.

I am afraid of heights. I cannot pinpoint where my fear came from, but the anxiety I feel is real. My hands get sweaty, my knees start to shake, and I feel as if I am about to lose my balance. So, when asked to climb with a friend, I was petrified. Although I had a harness on and someone to belay me, I knew I would fall to my death or pass out from anxiety. I was frozen in fear. After standing on the bottom of the tower looking up for what seemed like forever, I decided to trust the process and climb to the top. When I finally decided to climb, I was all-in and climbed to the top as fast as possible. Quicker than I expected, I was on the top, looking down. I felt uneasy and confident at the same time. I was still scared of climbing back down, but I trusted I would be OK because someone was there to help me through the process.

As you think about your professional career, have there been times when you have been frozen in fear as well? How has someone you trusted helped you overcome an obstacle? Here are two things to consider:

Before you can consider building trust with donors, you must understand your mindset? What experiences (both good and bad) have shaped your ability to trust others?. Are your expectations clear and reasonable? Who do you expect to open and show trust first? Do you take the first step by being open and transparent, or do you envision the other person to make the first move?  Learn to trust others so they can trust you. Building trust with donors includes being open and venerable with your donors and having authentic and meaningful conversations.

One reason a donor may not give when asked is that they do not trust you (yet). Experienced fundraisers understand fundraising is a journey taken with donors. There are several steps in the journey of building trust with donors. The first step in the process is making shared values. Creating shared values is the process of understanding other's values and motivations.  A great place to start is understanding what motivates your donors to give.  You must the time to truly listen and understand your donor's intentions and care about them before they are open to understand and care about the needs of your non-profit.

Your donors must feel comfortable speaking freely and openly about their successes, failures, and aspirations. Building trust with donors also requires reciprocal intentions. Donors must know you care about them and are willing to put their needs first before they are ready to learn about the needs of your non-profit and ways you may be able to work together.

The next step in building trust with donors is open communication. Transparent communication requires sharing information with your donors relevant to your conversation, pertinent to your donor's values and ideals, and is clear and action-oriented. While the next step may not be asking for a gift (yet), the conversation should naturally lead to the following action you and the donor will take together.

When building trust with donors, the goal is to identify areas both parties can collaborate on together. It means creating a partnership in which fundraisers and donors work together to accomplish a task which neither party could do on their own. Building trust with donors requires a long-term commitment. Mutually beneficial relationships are more profound, more meaningful, and last longer than those who are one-sided. (Not to mention reciprocal relationships are less stressful for everyone involved). Fundraisers who view donor's gifts as being mutually valuable will raise more than those to maximize the opportunity to meet the needs of the non-profit.

The focus is not on the one-time gift but the non-profit and donor's total capacity. This process includes setting benchmarks and metrics to quantify the partnership's impact and hold both parties accountable for reaching the overall goal.  Achieving agreed-upon objectives improves buy-in, trust, and appreciation for the partnership.

Building trust with donors increases donors' engagement and satisfaction, fundraiser effectiveness, and non-profit's ability to achieve their mission.

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