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Donor Participation Project

Building Trust and Relationships is Key for Small Nonprofits

For small nonprofits, building trust and relationships is the foundation for successful fundraising and donor engagement. According to Aly Evans, Executive Director of Foodnet Meals on Wheels in Ithaca, NY, “You can’t get their heart and their mind to address you if they don’t trust you and what you’re doing.” Focusing on trust-building and personal connections should be the priority over technical skills or large-scale initiatives.

Evans emphasizes doing “things that don’t scale” when starting up or rebuilding a development program. Forget what the experts tell you about email frequency or grant calendar schedules. Reach out to donors when you’re thinking about them with a personal card or email. Show donors your work in action by offering behind-the-scenes tours where they can meet clients and see your programs in action. These types of personal interactions are what build lasting trust and partnership.

For small shops without a long history, explore partnerships and alliances that can help build credibility. Examples include:

  • fiscal sponsorships
  • donor-advised funds at community foundations, and
  • university internship programs.

These partnerships allow small nonprofits to benefit from others’ expertise and infrastructure as you focus on relationship building. They signal to donors that a trusted third party has vetted and is willing to support your work.

Evans recommends getting to know individuals in your community like wealth advisors, trustees, and foundation staff. While not directly soliciting them, learn what they do and share about your mission and impact. When the time is right, they may facilitate introductions to potential major donors because they know and trust the work you do.

Building real trust and partnership takes work, but it yields sustaining support for an organization.

By prioritizing personal outreach, community alliances, and a people-first approach overall, small shops can cultivate the loyalty they need to advance their mission for years to come. The systems and technical expertise can follow; first, get out and build those relationships.

View the full recording of this session in our Resource Library.

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