“Change will not come if we wait for some other person or some other time. We are the ones we’ve been waiting for. We are the change that we seek.”

Barack Obama

Today I want to address partnership programs briefly. In other words, donors who commit to support your organization on an ongoing basis.

Growing relationships with donors isn’t completely different from how you’d cultivate a strong relationship with a friend. Honesty, transparency, and accountability create a foundation that can be built upon.

The trouble is that many organizations speak to donors as if they are selling them a used car: selling them on features and benefits, speaking to them as if they had no pre-existing relationship.

Such tactics may work to get a one-time donation, but the partnership between a donor and an organization is about personal investment.

So here are a few principles I believe organizations should keep in mind as they raise donors.

The mindset of a partner is “missional”.

While “benefits” are a nice perk, people who partner with an organization want to be part of the cause, not just get “stuff” in exchange for a commitment.

If you build relationships based on “getting stuff”, what happens to those relationships if the stuff goes away? A commitment focused on impact runs deep. A commitment focused on stuff goes away when someone else offers better stuff.

Cultivate the right answer to the “so that…” statement.

A partner is not simply a transactional relationship. Think of partnerships as ”so that…” relationships.

Yes: “I give so that homeless families can find shelter…”

Yes: “I commit so that cancer research continues to be funded…”

No: “I give so that I can get a t-shirt.”

Let me be clear: I don’t have a significant issue with “give to get” models for fundraising. However, that model should be within the context of a larger strategy that reinforces mission and cause. Otherwise, you are not raising donors, you’re simply raising dollars.

Donors aren’t buying something, they are giving to a mission. Partners are advocating a cause, not joining a program.

Reinforce the value of commitment.

Speak to and grow partner relationships based on what they are a part of.

“Your gift ensures….”

“Because of your support…”

“This is made possible because of your commitment…”

The more you highlight this through stories (audio, video, text)—the deeper the connection a donor will feel to the mission and impact.

One last thought

There are certainly benefits and perks that partners can get that acknowledge their special relationship, but these should never become the basis for the relationship. A partnership based on a cause is a relationship that will last, endure sways in the economy, and—ultimately—attract others to be a part of it too.

Raise dollars and you’ll have a successful campaign. Raise donors and you’ll further your mission.

Stephen Boudreau serves as VP of Brand & Community at Virtuous Software. For over two decades, he has helped nonprofits leverage the digital space to grow their impact. To that end, Stephen co-founded RaiseDonors, a platform that provides nonprofits with technology and experiences that remove barriers to successful online fundraising. He is an avid (but aging) soccer player, audiobook enthusiast, and the heavily-disputed UNO champion of his household.

Copyright ©2024 Stephen Boudreau.