What is the Special Ingredient that Leads to #Fundraising Success?

Do you know the special ingredient for creating fundraising success?

You’ll notice I didn’t say “secret ingredient.” That’s because it’s not a secret. It’s actually common sense. The reason I’m writing about it is that it is not yet common practice to the degree it should be.

The special ingredient is: building relationships.

Gerry Lenfest, 21st century philanthropist and Giving Pledge member, explained the importance of developing relationships when writing the Foreword to my book, Donor-Centered Planned Gift Marketing:

Knowing your prospects and understanding what motivates them are two critical steps in the [philanthropic] process. Quite simply, you cannot skip cultivation and relationship building and expect a successful outcome…. Do not make the mistake of forgetting about us once you receive our gift commitment. We may truly appreciate how efficiently and effectively you handle contributed funds so much that we entrust you with another planned gift. We are also in a position to influence others to do the same…”

While Lenfest’s comments were about planned giving, they certainly apply to any type of fundraising. Strong relationships are the key ingredient to a successful philanthropic process. By building meaningful relationships, you will:

  • Acquire more donors
  • Retain more donors
  • Upgrade more donors
  • Acquire more planned gifts
  • Generate more major gifts
  • Inspire donors to become ambassadors for your organization

Unfortunately, the nonprofit sector in general is terrible at building relationships. This is one major reason that donor-retention rates have been steadily falling for years, according to the Fundraising Effectiveness Project. While there is no shortage of great how-to material out there, charities are still failing to grasp the importance of embracing a robust stewardship program as part of the philanthropic process. You can search this site for donor retention to get some great tips.

For now, however, I want to share a heartwarming story of what can happen when you establish strong relationships with donors and inspire them to be ambassadors.

John’s Roast Pork is a destination sandwich stand in Philadelphia. John Bucci’s family-owned establishment has been around since 1930 serving the best roast pork sandwiches in the city. (Hey, Philly is about more than john-bucci-of-johns-roast-porkcheese steak sandwiches, though they serve those, too.) The James Beard Foundation designated the establishment as an “American Classic” for roast pork.

Unfortunately, earlier this month, John’s was burglarized. The perpetrator(s) got away with a few thousand dollars. The burglary also shut down the business until repairs could be made. The stolen sum included $1,500 that had been collected to benefit Be the Match, operated by the National Marrow Donor Program. The charity maintains the world’s largest and most diverse bone marrow donor registry.

Be the Match is important to Bucci. Several years ago, he fought a fierce battle with leukemia and was ultimately successfully treated with a bone marrow transplant. Since then, Bucci has been a supporter. At one point when he contacted the organization, he requested to meet his marrow donor so he could thank the person. However, he was told that the organization’s guidelines did not permit this. Here’s what Bucci told Philly.com he did instead:

So that’s why I’m a spokesperson for Be the Match. My friend said, ‘If you really want to thank [the marrow donor], just help others by using your platform as a ‘sandwich guru’ … to raise awareness.’ … I hold fundraisers now, and I try to mention it to everyone I know.”

When Bucci spoke with the media about the burglary he mentioned that he wasn’t the only victim. He mentioned that the burglar(s) also stole the $1,500 of donations designated for Be the Match that came from patrons.

The same day the news broke, competitor and friend Frank Olivieri of Pat’s King of Steaks showed up at John’s to hand Bucci an envelope containing $1,500 for Be the Match. Adam Spivak from Electric Factory, the concert producer, also arrived on the scene with $1,500 for the charity.

What could have been a sad story of loss for Be the Match, instead has a happy ending as the charity will receive twice the gift it was expecting.

The happy conclusion was only possible because of the power of relationships. Be the Match has maintained a strong relationship with Bucci for years. As a result, Bucci doesn’t just donate; he serves as an ambassador and fundraiser for the charity. In addition, Bucci’s passion for the charity and his personal relationships in the community led to an outpouring of support.

When it comes to the philanthropic process, relationships are clearly a special ingredient.

What are some of your favorite ways to engage donors and build meaningful relationships?

That’s what Michael Rosen says… What do you say?



6 Responses to “What is the Special Ingredient that Leads to #Fundraising Success?”

  1. Michael, thank you for this simple, but powerful reminder about the positive effect relationship building can have.

    It’s easy to forget when you engage with someone online that there is a real person on the receiving end. Technology has made the move to digital swift and seamless, but at what cost?

    Developing a relationship (especially in sales or fundraising) takes time, trust and generally some face to face (or at least voice to voice) contact.

    I like Pamela Grow’s story of how she engaged donors to build relationships. She called them. Everyday she made it a point to share her gratitude. More on that here: http://www.pamelagrow.com/8342/number-one-habit-successful-fundraisers/

    • Zach, thank you for commenting and sharing the link to Pamela Grow’s blog post. I’m glad to know this subject resonates with you. As fundraising technologies evolve and as donor motivations change, we need to adapt how we develop relationships.

  2. Thanks for sharing that great story Michael!

    An always needed reminder that relationship building is key.

    A similar thing happened in MA when a facility storing toys for a nonprofit that gives them to children in need with military parents got burglarized. People want to help right a situation like that, but they need to be asked!

    • Danielle, thank you for sharing the story about what happened in MA. It’s always nice to hear a story that has a happy conclusion. But, as you suggested, it’s up to each of us to make those happy conclusions possible.


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