A good portion of my time during the week is spent reviewing major donor gift data that our analyst at Veritus is crunching for us to present to prospective clients.
One part of our analysis is to review individual gift officer portfolio performance. Over the years I’ve seen a trend: when tracking overall revenue from a portfolio over a period of four years, we see very little growth over that time period.
When we talk to leaders, managers and major gift officers about why they believe they aren’t seeing growth, we’re led by their answers to one major conclusion:
There is no real relationship with the donor.
You can see it glaring at you from the data. This is what it looks like:

  1. High donor attrition — I see donors giving a really nice gift four years ago, and then nothing for the next three consecutive years. Donors who gave three years ago, then nothing… and so on.
  2. High donor value attrition — I see donors giving $25,000 four years ago, and each year they’ve given less and less… so that by the current year it’s down to $5,000 a year.
  3. Same year-over-year giving — The major gift portfolio is full of donors who, over the course of four years, have given the same amount year after year after year.
  4. High proportion of low four- and five-figure gifts — The portfolio is about 95-98% made up of smaller major gifts.

So when I sit down with the major gift officer and ask them to tell me the story behind the donors and their giving, I encounter an awkward silence and a distinct lack of eye contact. This is because the major gift officer doesn’t know the story – because she doesn’t know the donor.
When you don’t know the donor, you don’t know what their passions and interests are. And if you don’t know their passions and interests, you can’t match them with the programs and projects you have that are changing the world, inspiring them to give at greater and deeper levels.
It’s really that simple.
Developing a good relationship with your donor gains her trust. When the donor trusts you, this is where the magic happens.
And this doesn’t just apply to the non-profit sector.
Just the other day, I was reading an article from an investment portfolio manager. He was writing about retaining clients and what study after study has shown to be the most effective way to keep and gain more of a client’s assets to manage… Yep, you got it – having a solid relationship with that person.
Amazingly, having the right products or impressive investment return year-over-year wasn’t the client’s main driver to stay with their wealth advisor. It was whether they had a good relationship with her, and whether or not they trust in her.
So it doesn’t matter if it’s the for-profit or non-profit world; building relationships with your donors and developing their trust will retain donors and grow your portfolio.
This is why, at Veritus, we constantly stress relationship-building. All the work we do with helping non-profits build a structure, provide accountability and focus for the major gift officer is all centered on building relationships and trust with the donor.
There is no secret sauce here. Yet we find that leaders and managers are always trying to discover that elusive sauce. The best thing you can do right now is pull out a report that lists all of the donors in your portfolio and ask yourself, one by one: 1) do you know the donor?, 2) Do you know their story? 3) Do you know their passions and interests? 4) Does the donor trust you?
Be honest. If you find you don’t know your donors and don’t have their trust, start working on that today. Remember, when a donor trusts you, this is where the magic happens. (Tweet it!)