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Empowered Donor-Fundraiser Relationships

Empowerment Sculpture 110714

By David Langiulli, Certified Professional Co-Active Coach and Princeton University philanthropic advisor, Connect-Coach-Create

Recently, Graham Coppin and I hosted a webinar with a small number of seasoned fundraisers to explore the topic of empowered relationships between donors and fundraisers: how to create and sustain them. In fundraising, we know that every donor is unique. Each has his/her own circumstances, desires and interests.

We also know that the “relationship” is as powerful (perhaps more) than either of the individuals. Often, a misconception arises in the minds of fundraisers when they start to believe that the donor has all the power (after all, they have all the money).

If the donor has all the power, then that relationship isn’t going to last very long or bear much fruit. The relationship must challenge, inspire, and motivate each party. It is inherently dynamic and evolves over time. When it is empowered, the fundraiser and donor are peers, two equals, serving the relationship and the organization about which they both care.

An empowered relationship is a safe and courageous environment where the fundraiser and donor establish rapport and trust through discretion, confidentiality, and non-judgment. If donors are going to explore and take risks, they must be able to speak freely with their fundraiser about their dreams.

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Trust is built over time as the donor and fundraiser recognize that they can count on each other. Trust is built by little and large actions such as: being on-time for appointments; believing in the donor and his/her purpose in making a contribution; wholeheartedly believing in the mission of the organization that both the fundraiser and donor support; “loving the donor”, or loving some part of the donor. Part of that love involves not judging who the donor is, and what he or she does. As a fundraiser, if you cannot completely champion the donor and celebrate who he or she is, then it will be difficult to grant power to the relationship.

Honesty and authenticity also build trust. Fundraisers must be truthful about who they are, and what they are capable of. An empowered relationship is one where truth can be told. Donors expect fundraisers to be truthful with them about the organizations they represent, and fundraisers expect donors to be truthful with them about their aspirations and resources. This is one area where intuition often comes into play. If a fundraiser is not being honest and authentic with a donor, the latter will “smell” it from a mile away. Fundraisers also need to tap into their own intuition as the relationship develops in order to “intuit” what is not being said by a donor.

In closing, let me say a few words about appreciation, a.k.a.—“the attitude of gratitude”. Here I’m not referring to the obligatory thank you note for a donation. I am suggesting that being in a continuous state of gratitude for all that life (and the donor) has to offer will open the floodgates of success and prosperity – “unexpected in common hours” (Thoreau). Without appreciation, the spigot is shut tight.

At the conclusion of the aforementioned webinar, Graham and I asked each of the participants to describe in one word what an empowered relationship looks (or feels) like. Here are a few of the responses: real, complete, safe, alive. I encourage every fundraiser to approach their donor relationships from the contexts of trust, non-judgment, authenticity, intuition, appreciation, and purpose. In so doing may you and your donors experience the joy that is possible from empowerment.

What is your vision of an empowered donor-fundraiser relationship? Can you share an example?


One Comment Post a comment
  1. Jud Crihfield #

    Spot on about the elements of an empowered and empowering relationship. Thanks for insights.

    December 3, 2014

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