We can all relate to the awkwardness of dating – the sometimes grueling act of finding someone, the first-date silences, the missed and sometimes misinterpreted social cues, and the continued work it takes to develop a new relationship into something more. Development departments often go through this process with each new prospective donor. So, we can learn a lot from the dating do’s and don’ts that we practice in our social lives outside of the office.
Given the amount of information about potential donors, foundations, and corporate partners, finding someone to support your organization is daunting. But, as anyone who has spent time in the online dating world knows, the best results happen when you are introduced by someone you know. When a person you trust (friend, colleague, board member) can connect you, the chances of a match increase. Equally as important, it also helps everyone avoid that awkward bar scene scenario.
Most us have our elevator pitch down. We also know that to get to know someone, you should ask questions – a lot of questions. Given this isn’t likely our first time (dating or fundraising) we have a sizeable repertoire of standard questions like: What are you passionate about? How long have you been doing this? What have successful relationships looked like in the past? Oh, if only building relationships were that easy.
Many of you know Simon Sinek’s, Start with Why talk. Starting with questions that get at the person’s “why” they agreed to the “date” in the first place is a great place to start. Be sure to ask questions that help you:
While knowing what questions to ask and in what order is necessary in cultivating a meaningful connection, it simply isn’t enough. Just like a date, a funder can sense “a player” a mile away. The best relationships are built when each person shows up genuinely curious to learn about the other, with no assumptions or requirements about the outcome. Don’t be discouraged! If you consider every encounter as an opportunity to learn about someone else, what you/your organization wants in a partner, and perhaps what you might want to improve, then this approach can be so rewarding!
Eventually, you may ask yourself (and wonder if the funder is thinking the same), is this a match? If you’ve had the assistance of a friend who introduced AND engaged in a conversation where you asked and answered thoughtful questions AND did so with a genuine curiosity of getting to know the other person, AND discovered that you have shared goals, then you may be declaring: “It’s a Match!”.
However, asking and answering insightful questions is just the first step. When you’re so desperate for a relationship (as we often are in the development world), we don’t always stop to ask ourselves tough but important questions, like:
This may seem counter-intuitive, but there is NO SHAME in admitting that sometimes it just isn’t a match. These moments help us better understand what we’re looking for in a supporter. Just make sure you don’t ghost the person, and graciously invite them not to ghost you. It’s important to thank them for their time and interest, and invite them to stay connected.
Getting to that important milestone whether your one-month or one-year anniversary is great, but it’s just the beginning. Filing the award letter, logging that the proposal was approved, even depositing the check is an exciting moment for sure, but it will be a one-time experience if you aren’t already thinking about how to keep the romance alive.
There are countless Ted Talks, You Tube videos, webinars, and resources about best practices in maintaining healthy relationships (personal and professional). Beyond the terms of the donation/grant/sponsorship, a great place to start is to think about what that person said on your first “date” about what is important to them. If you were genuinely curious and listening, you would have heard clues like:
If you’ve built a solid relationship, the answer is “no”. Cultivating a long-term relationship means your partner will have a chance to see you at your best (i.e. annual reports), and when you stumble and fall (i.e. missing reporting deadlines).
Be open and honest about what’s working and what isn’t. Sometimes obstacles arise or circumstances change, and we worry about letting the other person down. You might avoid them or pretend everything is alright, which only shows your partner they can’t trust you. Tell the truth and don’t wait until it’s too late.
What helpful lessons and skills have you learned along the way in developing long-term relationships with individual donors, foundations, or corporate partners? When have you been surprised that a donor didn’t renew their commitment? Any relationship skills you wish you had known at the beginning of your fundraising career? Join the conversation!
Learn more about how Mission Capital is multiplying the impact of mission-driven people and organizations in Central Texas, visit our website. If you want to get involved, contact Lisa Keefauver at 512-477-5955 ext. 242.
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