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Initiating Authentic Donor Relationships

Posted by Lon Swartzentruber on March 6, 2018

Sir Isaac Newton’s first law of motion said that objects at rest tend to stay at rest and objects in motion tend to stay in motion. This law also applies to your organization’s relationships with its donors. Authentic relationships in motion tend to stay in motion. By motion I mean the relationship deepens and becomes more meaningful to you, the donor, and the organization.

So, how are authentic donor relationship created and set into motion? Let’s explore. 


A lasting and authentic donorImage for Lon's March blog.png relationship is built on a shared sense of purpose. The purpose is your organization’s mission. Your organization exists for a specific purpose, and when a donor cares about that purpose, you have somethinimportant in common. Your relationship is initiated and built on this solid foundation.

Note: Finding prospective donors who share your organization’s purpose is what makes the role of development officers important and unique. For this post, I’m writing with the assumption that you have identified prospective donors who fit this criterion. 

With a shared sense of purpose established, what’s next? Action.


As is the case in Newton’s law, an action is needed to set a relationship in motion. Action mixed with a shared sense of purpose makes for a powerful combination.

One of the best ways to initiate a relationship with a prospective donor is to ask one simple question: Why?

Why do you care about having affordable housing in our community?

Why is it important to you that we have accessible health care, even if the patient isn’t able to pay?

Why does our community need a strong and lasting endowment?

These may seem like obvious questions, but they are important. The propensity can be to sell a donor—tell them the great things about your organization and why it worthy of the donor’s support. This approach may result in a one-time gift, but it will not result in an authentic long-term relationship.  

Asking why and listening to understand the donor’s perspective creates a real relationship. This approach allows for a mutual exchange and the opportunity to uncover additional commonalities that add to the richness of your relationship.

Ultimately, you are setting the groundwork to ensure a relationship in motion stays in motion in a real and lasting way.

NEXT MONTH: Once you initiate an authentic relationship and set it in motion, what’s next? April’s post will focus on developing and deepening authentic relationships.  

Have a thought, question or example to share? Please use the comments area below. If you’d like to discuss initiating authentic relationships with me more directly, you may reach me at (877) 771-3330, ext. 15.

Topics: deep dive, nonprofit, stakeholder engagement