How to Develop Friendly, Authentic Relationships with Major Donors

1-9-17-image-featureHere’s #4 in my series of major gift fundraising tips to help you get off to a great start in the new year.

I’m sharing some of my best advice to help YOU and your team bring in the major gifts that are out there for your nonprofit.

Today, we’re talking about how to develop authentic relationships with major donors.

You gotta have friendly relationships with major donors if you want to discuss a significant gift, don’t you?

This is a real toughie for many people.

What’s it like for you when you try to connect with your major donors?

Do you ever feel like you are floundering and don’t know what to say or do?

Well, guess what?

It’s absolutely possible to develop close, easy, friendly relationships with major donors.

You CAN gain their trust – and huge investments from them. I can show you how.

But first, let me tell you a story about me:

I remember when I was a front-line major gift fundraiser. I started at Duke University as a major gifts officer, and I was dealing with some pretty sophisticated and wealthy people.

But sometimes I simply didn’t know what to do or say when I was in front of my donors.

I just felt so awkward.

I would get appointments with these Very Important People and just feel like I had missed the mark.

I felt like I could not connect with them.

I just hated floundering. I hated feeling socially awkward.

I hated missing the opportunity to move these potential donors closer to a significant gift. After all, my fundraising goal for the year was hanging over my head every day! Yikes!

But luckily, I had a friend who literally served as my coach and mentor.

He gave me confidence, and taught me how to “be” when I was with these VIP donors.

Having a coach meant the world to me. It meant the difference between fear and success.

It felt so wonderful to have someone I could go to for advice, right when I needed it. It actually helped me sleep at night. 🙂

And eventually I ended up closing some very large major gifts, from these very people. Yay!

Have you ever felt lonely as a fundraiser? Awkward? Wishing you knew what to say and do?

Bless your heart, as we say in the South!

This is why I developed my Major Gifts Coaching and Mentoring program. I wanted to be able to personally and directly coach fundraisers and their entire teams on the skills it took to be successful.

I particularly wanted to share “relationship-development” skills with them. I can help you and your team achieve your fundraising potential by serving as your Major Gifts Coach.

This year’s group is filling up rapidly, and we are closing it out next week, so let me know now if you are interested!


Today, here are 5 tips to help you develop close, friendly, easy connections with your major gift prospects.

We are talking about the social side of fundraising. It’s an art. It’s the delicate dance of establishing a trusting bond with a major donor.

1. Above all, understand your donor’s style.

People all have different personalities, motivations and ways of operating. Some people are Type A and others are Type B, for example.

If your donor is a fast-paced business person, she may not want a social relationship. She’s too busy.

Or if your donor is a retiree without family, he may enjoy lots of social time and attention.

Can you guess your donor’s DISC type? (Dominance, Influence, Steadiness and Conscientiousness)

Be ready to adapt your approach to your donor.

2. Be all about the donor.

That means you don’t talk about yourself. You don’t disclose lot of personal details about yourself, even if your donor is sharing personal information.

You always focus on what is on donor’s mind, and not your own agenda. (This is the hard part!)

That means you practice beautiful manners. Courtesy and decorum are always welcome social skills, right? Don’t forget, too, that poise and your appearance really matter.

You are a sympathetic listener, responding to what your donor days.

You practice the art of small talk and polite conversation. These skills put everyone at ease – both you AND your donor.

3. Make it social. Lighten up.

I find that a lot of fundraising happens in quasi-social situations.

You may be at a gathering or even a coffee shop, and you’ll be able to “touch” your donor lightly to grow their interest.

You have to be able to be cordial, interesting, and generous of spirit. Never, ever heavy-handed!

You absolutely CAN’T be too business-like, unless your donor gives your clear indications that they are ready for a business discussion. Never, ever be pushy.

Avoid social calamities with your donors by following their lead on conversation topics, and considering their own likes and dislikes when you are with them.

4. Build trust by doing what you say you will do.

Nothing will squelch a productive relationship with major donors faster than losing trust.

Your donor will learn quickly whether you are ethical, whether you keep confidences, and whether they can expect you to do what you say.

Be careful not to misinterpret your donor’s words. And never pressure them.

It can take a long time to build a productive relationship – so start now!

5. Be an interesting person.

Wow, you may say that is a tall order!

I’ll never forget reading an interview with Naomi Levine, the famous NYC fundraiser. She says you have to be an interesting person – interesting enough for your donor to want to have lunch with you. 🙂

Ms. Levine recommends that you read widely so that you can carry on interesting conversations.

I remember when I first interviewed at Duke for my very first fundraising job. I casually mentioned to my future boss two items that I had just read in the Sunday New York Times.

I got the job. She told me later that my reading had impressed her. She somehow felt that I was educated enough to handle myself with big donors.

Bottom Line – How to Build Relationships with Major Donors:

These “soft skills” help build relationships with major donors. They can make or break your donor relationships. Learning how to build authentic relations with donors is a true art.

If you want help building your major gift fundraising skill set, do join my Major Gift Coaching program, and I’ll help YOU learn how.