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Donor Participation Project

Listening is Fundraising: Building Trust and Meaningful Relationships with Donors

Fundraising is all about building relationships. And the key to building strong relationships is listening. By listening to your donors and understanding what motivates them, you can connect their giving to meaningful impact and turn “pat on the head” donors into major supporters.

According to fundraising experts Russell James and Jim Langley, donors want to feel heard and know their gifts will accomplish something significant. Questions are the key to discovering a donor’s interests and values. Ask open-ended questions like “what causes do you care most about?” or “if money were no object, what kind of impact would you like to have?” These questions start conversations about personally meaningful victories that tie donations to outcomes.

Surveys are one scalable way to ask questions, identify prospects, and improve fundraising ROI.

Follow up survey responses with in-depth conversations. Explain that you want donors’ input to better achieve your mission. Ask for advice and stories, not just money. This establishes trust and shows donors their opinions and experiences matter.

Don’t just tell donors about your organization’s accomplishments. Ask them about their priorities and concerns. Then match these interests with specific projects or programs. Describe opportunities to sponsor or endowed elements of your work. This gives meaning to different gift levels and turns transactional “pat on the head” donors into mission-focused partners.

Some donors want their gifts restricted to certain areas. Offer creative options beyond unrestricted funding like sponsoring an initiative for a set time period or endowing essential operational expenses. Show how these targeted gifts still support your overall goals while also creating personal meaning for supporters.

Listening is the key to learning what motivates your donors and translating that into opportunities for impact and meaningful partnerships. Ask questions, share what you’re learning, and invite more interaction. Nurture authentic relationships based on trust and understanding. That is how listening becomes fundraising.

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

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