Aug 9, 2018, 8:00 AM

Building Meaningful Lifelong Relationships with Supporters

Are you ready to build a meaningful lifelong relationship with your supporters? 

Back in the year 2000 when I was a Marketing Executive at Christian Aid, the charity was just starting to develop door-to-door fundraising, direct marketing was growing, and there was great optimism about the opportunities for fundraising. Even then however, knowing what an army of committed volunteers the organisation had, questions were being asked about how the direct marketing team could work better with the church team. 

I later went on to work for charities who were driven by the direct marketing approach, organisations with low brand awareness but who were making face-to-face, direct mail and telephone fundraising really work to grow their income significantly year on year. Yet still I felt it was important to offer supporters more: to engage with them personally, to try to understand them better, to break down the internal silos.
Now, more than three years after Olive Cooke’s tragic death and with the arrival of GDPR, we are all being forced to reflect, to look at the people behind the endless drive for ROI and Net income. Our supporters. 

What does relationship fundraising really look like in today’s world? How can we balance the need for a personal approach with the need to use digital to engage with supporters? 

Relationship fundraising is not new, but how many charities have responded to recent challenges and significantly changed their approach? 

It has been my privilege to work for charities with a strong and committed generation of fundraising volunteers. Ones who are passionate about the cause, and many of whom have raised hundreds of thousands of pounds over decades. When these supporters first started supporting did the charities look at one-year ROI on a fundraising product, or did they instinctively know that engaging with supporters on a very personal level would have long-term impact? As these supporters are getting older we are thanking them and celebrating their years of service. But are we perhaps neglecting to nurture the next generation of supporters? 

Certainly, they won’t be like the generation before them, they will engage differently. But we have perhaps wrongly assumed that they are purely transactional. Some might just want to run the marathon and move on, but others have a very deep passion. We simply haven’t found the way yet to engage with them. 

At The Children’s Society, we had a traditional structure to the fundraising department. With an urgent need to rethink the impact the organisation was having on some of the UK’s most vulnerable children however, we knew that we needed to look at things differently. So we developed a new supporter engagement strategy that put building a relationship with our supporters at its heart. 

We focused on lifetime value – that is to say, valuing every way a supporter engaged, whether giving, fundraising, volunteering or campaigning - and looked at that over the long-term. Focusing on the experience the supporter has and valuing the relationship they are building with the charity for the longer-term, rather than short-term gain for a given product or appeal. 

This meant we had to completely rethink how our teams were structured, how we reported on income and KPIs, and most importantly how we engaged with our supporters. 

It was no longer enough just to talk to cash givers about giving cash gifts, or to marathon runners about running a marathon. We restructured our teams to reflect levels of relationship: from the one-to-one, to stewarded, to a more mass approach. We reviewed all of our fundraising products with a broader perspective, we segmented our supporters not by how they had engaged with us in the past but by their potential to engage. We built a new relationship management approach to focus on how we managed personal and stewarded relationships – so that motivations of supporters could be identified, and engagement and potential could be followed up. 

We had to embrace innovation, work in new ways and get really good at managing change. 

It’s scary but also very exciting 

A change in thinking and approach of this scale requires a change in mindset from leaders and teams alike. It’s about completely rethinking our traditional models, and perhaps even rethinking how we lead our teams. 

If we truly believe we are here to have an impact on the causes we are working for, I don’t believe we can delay. We need to work together to make this change happen. 

Emily Petty is an Action Planning Consultant specialising in relationship fundraising and supporting charities to manage change. She has directly experienced managing change and is passionate about supporting leaders and teams to enable them to manage change effectively, whatever form it takes. She is expert in community and relationship fundraising, as well as having experience across all fundraising disciplines and developing fundraising and communications strategies. Emily can be contacted through Action Planning at office@actionplanning.co.uk 

David Saint

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