| 5 min read

Strengthen Your Fundraising with Real Relationships

We often say that fundraising is relational; however, do we really put effort into building real, authentic relationships? Fundraising is not just a monetary exchange. It involves including, involving, and welcoming in the community to help solve a problem. This necessitates meaningful relationships. Recently, I had the opportunity to chat with Carole Robin and T. Clay Buck about creating real relationships and reinforcing them with how we view fundraising. 

The conversations were a part of a mini-series I did in collaboration with my friends at Instil. Here are the episode links if you want to listen to the whole conversations:

So, what are Real Relationships? 

Boost your fundraising with genuine relationships

In my conversation with Carole, she spoke about how relationships exist on a continuum. At one end of the continuum, you have dysfunctional relationships which are often indicated by content without connection. On the opposite end you will find the most exceptional relationships. 

As with any continuum, many of our relationships will fall in the middle. However, there are things that can be done to strengthen these relationships. Carole highlighted six core characteristics that can help your relationships develop. While they may not be exceptional, they can definitely achieve robustness. 

Feeling Seen & Accepted

Positive relationships should feel affirming. You should feel comfortable to be yourself in front of the other person without having to hide behind an image. This can be done by taking a bit of risk, stepping out of your comfort zone, and showing more of your true self. With fundraising, this can include things like discussing challenges openly. 

Inviting Others to Be Seen & Accepted by You

Feeling affirmed in a relationship is not simply a one-way street. You should also show up in a way that helps others feel welcomed and invited to be accepted by you. This can involve showing care and concern and asking deeper questions. Within fundraising, this can involve seeking to understand the impact a potential donor wants to see. 

Trust One Another

Most people would expect that trust is something that is key to an effective relationship. Trust is not something that can just be turned on; rather, it must be built. This often involves being open and honest, accepting feedback, and seeking to address things productively. However, if you follow the first two characteristics, you are creating a foundation of trust. 

Be Honest with One Another

Honesty is easy in relationships when it is positive. However, when we must convey negative aspects or problems, it can be much more uncomfortable. However, the ability to do this is a central part of a healthy relationship. Being open and candid with donors can often accomplish this. I recall a time a donor asked me to discuss problems my organization had already experienced because he wanted to see that we weren’t afraid to take risks but didn’t want to invest in our first risk ever. 

Know How to Have Conflict Productively

Many people hate conflict. That’s simply a natural way to feel as it can be really uncomfortable. However, conflict does not have to be negative. In fact, it is inherent in all relationships. Knowing how to deal with it professionally and productively will help determine whether it strengthens or weakens a relationship. This involves many different types of interpersonal skills and is something that people can grow over time. 

Invest In One Another’s Learning & Growth

A final characteristic of healthy relationships, investing in each other’s growth can create synergy. One of the things I love doing is connecting people with information and resources to help them grow. We all have different things to share that can help us embody this characteristic. 

What Is the 15% Rule? 

Take your fundraising to the next level through genuine relationships

Anyone who has ever read about Gardner’s “Multiple Intelligences” knows that interpersonal intelligence is one of the ways in which people can operate and excel. However, these interpersonal skills are things that have to be developed over time. 

For many people, learning to do some of these things like being more open or addressing conflict can be very uncomfortable. It is important to realize that learning and growth do not occur if you remain in your comfort zone. However, they also don’t occur if you get into your danger zone. This is often known as the principle of challenge and support. You need the right combination of challenge and support to be able to grow yet feel safe enough to land at the learning edge of your comfort zone where personal growth can happen. 

Many people are understandably cautious about stepping out of their comfort zone. The 15% rule can help with this. Stepping 15% out of your comfort zone can keep you supported enough to take on new challenges without entering the danger zone. This also helps your comfort zone gradually grow. It is an easy way to promote incremental growth. 

Tunnel Vision & the Transactional Rule 

One of the problems with focusing on developing real relationships in fundraising is the fact that we often fall into tunnel vision. After all, we have to hit our budgetary goals. As a result, we may become hyper focused on goals. This can lead to things like ego protection or only presenting carefully curated realities, things that inhibit building real relationships. Avoiding falling into the trap of tunnel vision is key. 

Another typical problem with fundraising and relationships is the transactional rule. We often say, “Don’t be transactional!” However, this is very often misunderstood. Many people hear this and think it means “don’t talk about money.” However, talking about money is absolutely key to what we do and fulfilling the missions of our organizations. 

Instead, the transaction rule should be viewed as “don’t focus solely on money.” T. Clay Buck made some good points when addressing this. He noted that building effective relationships can allow you to easily ask for money if you’ve established trust and link the ask to important work. 

He notes the importance of inviting the broader community into fundraising by working together to solve a problem. Discuss the problem and what it will cost to solve it. Invite those interested to invest in our efforts to resolve it. This is easy to do when we build effective relationships with the community. 

Another important concept addressed by Buck was the importance of recognizing all donors at all levels with all gifts. While we typically think in terms of major gifts, everything is a “major gift” to that donor. There will always be people in need and those who want to help. Strengthening relationships can empower greater access to philanthropy for people in all levels of society. 

Need a Tool to Help Craft Real Relationships? 

Develop real connections with donors and supporters to maximize your fundraising

We use technology for virtually everything today. In fundraising, technology is vital for staying organized and keeping track of important information. While we all use software to track donations, transactions, and more, it is also useful to be empowered to leverage data regarding our interactions. This is where Instil comes in. Instil really understands what it means to build and manage relationships in a holistic and human-first way. The platform’s advanced UX design and real-time analytics smooth donor management and operations across your entire organization. Click here to learn more.

For more of my favorite fundraising tips and tricks, check out my Resource page! Here, you can find relevant articles, webinars, quizzes, etc. about fundraising in the nonprofit sector. In addition, you can subscribe to What the Fundraising for ongoing conversations about how you can fundamentally change the way you lead and fundraise. And to learn how to raise more from the right funders using the Power Partners Formula, you are always welcome to join one of my free Masterclasses at malloryerickson.com/free.

Leave a Comment

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *


Mastering Donor Retention

Donor retention is one of the most important aspects of fundraising for nonprofit organizations. Since nonprofits constantly seek to expand

Scroll to Top


Just put in your name and email to let the magic begin….
This field is for validation purposes and should be left unchanged.

You're one step away from getting my favorite tools!

Just put in your name and email to let the magic begin….
This is default text for notification bar