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Donor Participation Project

Fundraising Advice: Focus on Personal Connections

For nonprofit fundraisers, building genuine relationships with donors is the key to success, according to James Barnard, Associate Vice President of Development at the University of Cincinnati Foundation.

“People give to people. This is something that a friend told me when I was interviewing for my first professional fundraising job and I’ve never forgotten it,” Barnard said. “I really see how true this is every single day.”

While marketing campaigns and branding have their place, donors are motivated by personal connections, not flashy designs. Fundraisers need to show how gifts impact real people.

“We have to make these personal connections and build value driven relationships,” Barnard explained. “We really have to show how philanthropy impacts real people.”

At the University of Cincinnati Foundation, Barnard’s team uses an engagement platform called VanillaSoft to facilitate personalized outreach at scale. The software provides tools for creating donor journeys, generating new leads, and prioritizing key relationships.

“If personalized hour, just scale is something that you’re trying to do, then you really need a tool like this in your technology,” Barnard said.

For Barnard, working in advancement is about facilitating public investment in higher education and helping students achieve their dreams.

“Students are the next leaders, the innovators, the change agents, the teachers, doctors, nurses, scientists, the people who are really gonna make our world a better place,” Barnard said. “And what if the answers to some of these problems lie in a student who never gets the opportunity to go to college?”

Barnard’s key advice for fundraisers is to focus on crafting a compelling narrative for donors. “We have to keep working on our message, make sure that it’s relevant, and show that our donuts understand what we stand for and they see the value of investing in our mission,” he said. By building personal connections and sharing stories of impact, fundraisers can inspire more giving.

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

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