Rule #2: Donor Relationships Management – Cultivate Productivity And Build Trust


Fundraising involves a great deal of relationship cultivation and management. Whether a donor gives $2 or $2 million, relationships matter and constructive contact is necessary. The nature of the relationship will be different for a $2 donor compared to a $2 million donor, but, in each case, the relationship remains crucial over time.


How you define a relationship also matters. A successful relationship with a donor must be one where contact is meaningful, engaging, and productive. Strong trust anchors a great relationship. Fundraisers and organisational leaders must work to earn trust and build on that trust. Trust can only be generated through meaningful contact with supporters and credible delivery on action plans.

The great fundraisers and leaders know that they can only earn strong trust with donors by being straightforward, honest and ethical in their dealings with them. The great fundraisers know that donors appreciate mature, honest conversations and experience great satisfaction from knowing the impact that their support produces.


Unfortunately, some organisational leaders place very little value on relationship cultivation and achieve underwhelming results in securing long term support and major gifts. The development of relationships is, unfortunately, an area where some individuals use unscrupulous tactics and ultimately burn promising relationships and achieve counterproductive results. The reality is that most people know what spin and exaggeration look like. If you mislead prospects and donors by feeding them embellished content, most of them will see through it and move their support elsewhere.


Depending on the type of contact between donor and organisation, and the size of the gift involved, the relationship may be quite limited and transactional, or it may develop to a deeper level over time.

If you were in a position to give $1 million to a good cause, consider what would be uppermost in your mind as you make your decision to give such a substantial sum. Consider what you would expect to experience as you come to know the key people who lead the organisation and develop trust in them to do a good job.


Relationships invariably move in stages and cycles. The best fundraisers each have a system that they work by. Their system focuses on a model of good relationship development, systematically tracking progress, and identifying the next unique move required to cultivate a healthy relationship with each supporter.

Fundraisers, executive leaders, and board members who put sufficient time and effort into earning trust and forming genuine relationships tend to achieve more successful outcomes with donors, especially major donors.