Cultivating relationships that foster a strong, reliable tribe of support for your work is a long-term commitment that requires strategy, consistency and a good deal of patience.

1 | Research

In the beginning, it is all about background research. You don’t want to waste anyone’s time reaching out to prospects who are not aligned. You want supporters who already have an affinity with your work. Donors don’t support causes that they don’t believe in on some level. So a little legwork is in order, and that is where the research stage comes in.

Start by creating a profile of your dream donor. Don’t get too bogged down at this point with the demographic details or contact information. All that will come naturally later. For now, let’s explore the bigger picture of who this person will be. A few questions to get you started…

What are her values?

What might be her primary motivation for giving? 

Is she wildly wealthy, passionately committed, or both? Asking this question speaks to what sort of community you want to fund your work. Do you want to raise money from a small number of people with the ability to donate large sums? Or are you seeking to build a base of support from a mass populace that invests with small contributions?

Both scenarios are perfectly valid. Reaching out to an intimate number of prospects with greater giving capacity will give you space to truly personalize your engagement with them and nurture deep, lasting relationships. At the same time, as we’ve seen with crowdfunding, you can raise substantial funding in small doses. The Compassion Collective managed to raise a million dollars in just 31 hours all with donations that were $25.00 or less.

Now that you have an idea of the type of people you want to fund your work, begin building your list with two factors in mind: Who they are and how you will reach them.

Who are they? Add to your list people you already know. Colleagues, acquaintances, personal contacts, your social media followers, people who have already contributed to your work or promoted it in the past, constituents who your work serves, and so on. Even if you don’t imagine they’ll donate, include them here anyway. They can spread the word of your good work and perhaps even facilitate fruitful introductions to donors down the line.

Then dream up people you want to know and communities with whom you want to connect. This could be influencers that you admire, philanthropists dedicated to issues that you care about, people who donate to similar causes, the leadership in organizations you would like to fund your work and potential communities with whom your work will be relevant. Keep this wide open but as you brainstorm, begin thinking about how you will connect with them. Will you need an introduction? Is it appropriate to reach out without one?

Now that you’ve built your list, it’s time to build your bridges.

2 | Romance

Romance. The moment to get to know one another in real time, find common ground and plant seeds. Fair warning: this can take years. Patience and consistency will serve you well.

Let’s say you have a prospect in mind. Here are five creative and practical action steps that you could take over the course of this romance.

Get to know her personally. There is something about heart-centered human interaction that no amount of theoretical research or social media analytics can touch. Do everything you can to get together for an exploratory conversation in person. If your relationship with her is not quite there yet, you could ask for a personal introduction from a shared acquaintance. If you are starting from scratch here, try to connect at an event that you will both be attending. Once you are able to meet, ask thoughtful questions, listen with intention and follow-up with gratitude.

Use social media strategically. Engage your prospect on the various social channels but limit it to ones that she is on in a professional capacity. Subscribe to her newsletter (or that of her organization). If something in that latest newsletter is especially relevant to your work, hit reply and let her know how you’ve appreciated it (but don’t pitch!) If she responds, open the door with an invitation to get to know one another’s work in further detail.

Connect in-depth. At some point, the two of you will be ready to talk in detail about your work. In Know Your Story, we dive into 25 questions that will help you to shape your narrative and communicate it to your prospect. Make it personal and keep it inspirational.

Invite her into your process. You might invite her to an event that you are hosting, ask her for advice on an issue within your work, or request an introduction to someone she knows who could be beneficial to your mission.

And finally, keep her in the loop with consistent, personalized communication. Regularly send her a line about achievements in your work or news around the issues you both care about. Keep the conversation going. With thoughtful persistence, an opportunity to “make the ask” could present itself.

3 | Request

If you’ve done the work ahead of time and have made a meaningful connection with a prospect who is aligned and ready to give, then the ask should feel natural. You will also want several pieces of information first.

You’ll want to have resounding clarity on why she intends to contribute to your work. What is it about your mission that she is investing in? What is she expecting in return for her contribution? Why does she feel your work is worth supporting?

You’ll need to be able to communicate just how her contribution will have an impact on your mission. What is she supporting? What outcomes might she hope to see as a result? While you have no doubt explored all of this as it pertains to your work, now you will shift that focus to see it from her perspective.

You’ll have intuitively verified that she is ready to make a contribution and you have determined the amount you will ask for reasonably based on her capacity and desire to give.

No matter her response, consider how will you maintain a channel of communication with her that will allow you to approach her again in the future. Also, leave room to ask her for recommendations or introductions to others who might be interested in supporting your work.

Romance Version 2.0

Nurturing and evolving your relationship with your supporter is as important as everything it took to get here. Consider it akin to keeping the romance alive. You want to develop an ever-stronger relationship with your new donor with genuine gratitude, authentic engagement, and consistent communication.

If this has been helpful to you, please consider making a donation! Your contribution is deeply appreciated and supports all of the free programming at Open Rivers.

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