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Ministry Solutions Agency

Building Bridges, Not Just Transactions: The Art of Nurturing Donor Relationships


When it comes to successful donor relations, the top three factors leading to predictable generosity are: 

  • Relationships 
  • Relationships 
  • Relationships 

That may seem repetitive, but let’s consider a fact shared by Bill Stanczykiewicz, Director of the Fundraising School: Indiana University Lilly Family School of Philanthropy: The number one predictor of philanthropic generosity is relationship. Why repeat it three times and call it the Big Three? Because there are three relational disciplines everyone involved in donor engagement must practice regularly. 

  • Finding  
  • Founding 
  • Fostering

A word here about Lutheran Church Extension Fund’s (LCEF) philosophical approach to donor relations is in order. We believe all the resources on earth are created and owned by God. He’s placed His financial resources in the bank accounts and pockets of every human being on the planet, Christian or not. He has created us to be generous and has aligned hearts with all the charitable work that needs to be supported.  

Building upon this understanding, donor relations is about finding those whose hearts align with your ministry, founding a relationship with them and fostering that relationship in a way that leads them to discover how much of God’s resource they are to release supporting your work. It’s all about relationships with money being one measure of the strength of those relationships. There will be much more about what we measure in a future article. 

For now, let’s unpack the three disciplines.  

Finding new relationships is akin to cultivating new business in the for-profit world. When looking for new donors we do a lot of networking.

Where might you find people whose hearts might align with your ministry? Where do such people congregate? Find those people and those places and go there.

What story will you tell when you get there? How will you tell that story? Create value for the audiences you find.

Prepare and present a topic of interest to them that stirs their hearts and is aligned with what you do. Design a promotional piece or pieces that can be left behind.

Drive traffic to your ministry website and make sure the site is ready for new visitors.

Yes, this is a sales discipline and experts in sales will tell you there’s about a 3% conversion rate when looking for new customers. That means, to find three people whose hearts align with your ministry such that they will donate, you’ll need to get in front of 100 people. 

Once you’ve found those three people, the discipline of founding kicks in.

Think back to some of the most meaningful relationships in your life and how they started. Once we’re comfortable in a relationship, we tend to forget how much work went into getting it started. Time spent, lots of conversation, exploring common interests, giving offense and making amends. There’s a lot that goes into the early stages of a relationship if you intend to build a firm foundation.

In donor relations work this translates to meeting with new prospects at least six times over the course of 12 months to get to know them, share about yourself and your ministry and find out what most excites them about your ministry.

In addition to getting together in person, there are other touches, just like in building any new relationship. These include phone calls, texts, emails and even handwritten notes. 

Once founded, and for those donors with whom you already have a relationship, the equally important discipline of fostering takes over.

Fostering a relationship also requires time and personal attention. It also means caring for each donor as a person. Knowing important dates in their lives and connecting on those dates. Being aware of milestones for them and their family members and acknowledging those. Expressing appreciation for their financial partnership and keeping them connected to all you’re doing. 

When you tend to relationships, you’re securing the financial future of your ministry. While there are many other technical details involved in donor relations, your attention to finding, founding and fostering relationships is the superstructure upon which all else is built. Neglect relationships at the peril of losing critical financial support for your ministry.