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Your Guide to Building Donor Relationships — The 2021 Edit

By Erin Donnelly

Even in the middle of a crisis, people still need love – and you still need donors.

In our experience, we’ve found fundraising is actually a lot like online dating. Much the same as online dating, fundraising has not been made easier by our all-virtual world – or by the series of crises we’ve had to weather of late.

Don’t despair: We have a guide for that. Follow our expert relationship advice with this seven-step guide to winning over your dream donor – no matter the distance, no matter the crisis.

Step One: Set Up Your Profile

The first step to online relationship building is having a good profile. Let prospective donors know who you are and what you’re hoping to gain from a relationship with them.

To build a PAC profile that draws others in, you have to ask the hard questions.

  • What do you bring to the table?

  • What are your goals or key messages?

  • What do you want out of the relationship – a one-time donation or a life-long donor?

If you’re looking for something that will last, you have to put in the time. For many of you, this will mean spending some extra TLC on your PAC website. With no in-person fundraisers to fall back on, the importance of your online presence has heightened immeasurably. Don’t skimp on what is now your bread and butter.

After all, you’re just another online presence. Your PAC profile is all you have to stand out from the crowd.

Step Two: Swipe Right

Who is your ideal donor?

If you don’t know, it’s time to figure it out before blindly entering the fundraising pool. There are a lot of fish in the sea, but fishing in the right waters will increase your likelihood of finding a match.

Be intentional about who you “swipe right” on. Get your list of eligible prospects in order and do the research to know who your audience is and what they are looking for in turn. Identifying these two things will bring you much more success than aimlessly casting a wide net.

Remember, your dream donor can swipe left on you, too. Just like there are a lot of fish in the sea, there is also a lot of clutter in their inboxes and a lot of Zoom meetings crowding their calendars! Think about how you plan to get potential prospects to bite.

Step Three: Make Your Move

Now that you’ve matched with your ideal donor, it’s time to introduce yourself. It’s okay, it’s cool to make the first move.

With dating (and fundraising), you have to sell yourself. While your first line needs to catch them, what you say after is just as important. The strength of communicating in an online environment is that you can carefully think out what you want your opening statement to be before saying it – no awkward moments here!

Without being pushy, give helpful, fun education on who you are and what you can do for them. This is a good time to touch on the highlights from your profile and show off what you know will interest your match most.

The goal of this first conversation is to be someone they could see themselves with.

  • Are you someone they can build a future with?

  • Are you someone who shares their values?

  • Are you someone who wants the same things?

The answer is yes. Your job is to convince them.

After getting to know each other, schedule the “date” with a specific day and time to meet. With a quick Zoom chat being the new “let’s grab a coffee,” this has literally never been easier. Leave all flakiness and uncertainty at the door. Displaying confidence and knowing what you want is attractive.

Step Four: The First Date

You’re on the date. Virtually that is. You’ve established mutual interest and gotten to know each other. The first date can be the most difficult in a relationship – especially if your kids are screaming in the background. But as a fundraiser, you still have to make that first impression. And hey, this is where you shine.

Just like dating apps have created in-app video chat features, it’s time for you to up your virtual game too.

On your first call, build your match’s interest and clearly define what’s in it for them. Share testimonials of why others have joined and most importantly, ASK what you went there to ask. Be sure to make the ask specific, simple and urgent.

Remember, it’s a two-way street. No one likes a monologue dater. Ask about their thoughts and see if they have any questions or concerns. With everything going on in the world, they are almost certain to have questions – and to want someone to talk to who they feel they can trust.

Making a connection on a first date is good. But you know what’s better? A second date! Keep things moving.

Step Five: Seal the Deal

You survived the first date. Congratulations!

Getting your ideal match to say yes to your first question (joining your PAC) was just the start of the relationship.

Now, make sure you avoid the classic fundraiser problem of no follow-up. Reaching out after the first date and continuing to show your interest is essential to ensuring that your match does the same. There’s no guarantee they will enroll in your organization just because they said so on the date, so keeping communication going is key!

Especially without in-person memories to back up your first meeting, you are going to have to work twice as hard to get them to remember you and act on your request. Get creative with your follow-up and let your unique voice shine through.

So, swallow that pride and be the one to reach back out first. Even if you think the date went well and you got what you wanted, don’t try to silently ghost your way out of following up.

You know what the secret to a lasting relationship is? Communication! Don’t be a ghost.

Step Six: A Relationship That Lasts

If you made it this far and secured the donation, you’re a fundraising dating pro.

So how do you keep the relationship going? (Especially when there’s no “in-person date” in sight and your Zoom video lighting is looking extra unflattering.)

Confidently follow these suggestions to make sure your donor keeps coming back for more!

  • Thank your donor for their time and commitment, and let them know they are valued, i.e., worth more to you than just a one-and-done donation.

  • Show your match that you are just as committed by continuing to engage and pursue them over the following months.

  • Make sure they are aware of the benefits of being part of a long-term relationship with you, such as recognition opportunities, prizes and special events your organization might offer (or in other words, Instagram tags, thoughtful gifts and a date to your cousin’s wedding).

Your whole relationship exists online now, so make sure you create plenty of virtual opportunities for your match to continue engaging with you and give them plenty of reasons to stay.

Step 7: It’s a Marathon Not a Sprint

As with all relationships, creating good relationships with your donors is all about pacing.

It’s no secret that (just like us) your “match” has been processing a lot over the past 12 months. For many, this means they will want to slow things down – we don’t want to scare them off by being insensitive to this! But this also doesn’t mean you have to break up.

This is your time to be the understanding – and present – partner they deserve. Pace your donor relationships by being considerate of what they may be going through. Keep up your communication to let them know you are still by their side through thick and thin but soften your approach when making requests to meet them where they are at.

And if you remember nothing else from this guide, remember this: Never underestimate the importance of listening. Like never before, your donors just want to feel valued and heard.

Now that you know the secret to winning over your dream donor and achieving a fundraising relationship that lasts, we are ready to help you go find your match. Get in touch today at 866-521-0900 or

Erin Donnelly is the lead copywriter at Sagac Public Affairs. Erin loves telling and developing great stories for America’s top companies and associations. She specializes in entertaining, attention grabbing content that leads to action. From ideation to execution, she delivers creative and compelling copy that gives clients’ communications a powerful voice. By utilizing context and market research, she strategically tailors messages to each specific audience, optimizing the effectiveness of every communication.

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