Donor relationships are great, especially when they have been built organically and authentically around a shared passion for your mission. But while a good donor relationship is a sign of a healthy cultivation strategy, it can be limited. In a relationship between a staff member and a donor, there is always the risk that when the staff member leaves the organization, the donor will disappear as well. In order to avoid this, and keep your donors deeply connected to the organization, we recommend building more than a relationship—instead, build an entire community.
What does this look like?
Start from the beginning and think about how you successfully engaged your donor in the first place—was it through a site visit? A coffee meeting? A volunteer opportunity? Or maybe your benefit event? Identify your donor touch points and consider which of your donors might be interested in repeated, and deeper, engagement opportunities in each area. In other words, who can you gather together as a group (or community) around a particular interest?
Here are a few successful examples of donor communities that we’ve seen play out in our work:
Subject-Matter Committees. Sometimes an arts organization will have an Education Committee that convenes to discuss and learn more about the organization’s education programming, but the same idea could be applied to any organization whose work includes some niche areas. Your Committee could come together to discuss relevant reading material, listen to a panel discussion, or meet with subject-matter experts to get a better behind-the-scenes understanding of your work. Not only would they become more connected to your mission and programming, but over time they would start to develop relationships with one another as well.
Councils and Junior Boards. Whether this is a group of younger donors, or just a group of people who are not quite ready for the full board, a Council, Junior Board, or other kind of membership group that has some responsibilities with regard to fundraising for the organization is a fantastic way to build community around a common mission. Often these groups will meet three to four times per year, and have their own set of expectations, including a give-or-get and/or a goal to hit around the number of new people brought into the organization.
Benefit Host Committees. Sometimes you’ll encounter donors who are motivated by your mission, but what they really love to do is plan and host a party. Get those people together and put them to work hosting a fundraising event for your organization, whether that be your primary gala, or a smaller event that they get to really run with themselves. With a feeling of ownership over the event, they will be more motivated to help you sell tickets, and will be likely to form bonds to one another as well.
Standing Cultivation Events. What does your cultivation event calendar look like? With standing events that donors can expect on a regular basis (perhaps annually or quarterly), in addition to getting face time with you and your staff, they’ll also know exactly when they’ll be spending social time with one another. Additionally, cultivation events are a great opportunity to introduce donors to other members of your network, such as volunteers and program participants, with whom they might also begin to feel a shared sense of community.
The through line that holds all these examples together is the need for structure and planning to create opportunities for community-building. Regardless of the avenue you to take, putting your plans in place can only help to increase your donor’s engagement with your community and your mission.