Are you using secret sauce on your fundraising?

Why rapport is the key to connecting with donors

Do you want to increase your chances of connecting with donors?

Then prove that you share something important in common with them.

The longer I work in this business (28 years now, on both sides of the agency-client relationship), the more convinced I am that there’s only one way to cut through the information-cluttered, message-saturated marketing environment we fundraisers are slogging through these days to truly connect with donors.

And that’s by establishing rapport.

Rapport, you’ll remember from your high school vocabulary quizzes, is an emotional bond between people that’s based on mutual interest, admiration, trust and understanding.

And it’s the secret sauce on any successful interpersonal communication — including fundraising.

Rapport helps ease skepticism, build trust, align your goals with your donor’s and open the door to a conversation. Rapport earns you the right to be heard. Then, and only then, will donors be receptive to you and your message.

That’s important, because whether we want to admit it, people are increasingly likely to go out of their way to avoid us. (Sorry, but it’s true.) They’re time-pressed, overwhelmed, hunkered down, protecting themselves from the daily onslaught of advertising, come-ons and offers. They’re looking for any excuse to drop us in the trash, delete us from their email inboxes and ignore us online.

It doesn’t matter whether you’re talking about an acquisition appeal, cultivation email or newsletter, you need to ask yourself a crucial question: Why should the reader give you even one minute of their time?

Simply because you asked? Ha!

Because you believe your organization has something important to say that donors should listen to? You’re joking, right?!

No, you must earn the right to be heard. And the first step in that process is to establish genuine rapport — shared interests, values and goals.

Basing your communication on sincere rapport is the only way to cut through the suspicion and apathy that frequently separate us from donors.

Yes, we must get their attention, pique their interest, arouse their desire to be involved and move them to action. But if the foundation of that process is the donor’s conviction that you share something very important in common — a desire to see their (not your!) goals accomplished — then you’ll have strengthened the relationship and gotten the gift.

That’s why I like to use copy — and sometimes lead my letters with copy — that reminds donors of their relationship with the organization and shared ministry goals. Donors give for their own good reasons, of course. But it’s just smart fundraising to remind them that you understand those reasons and that a relationship with your organization will help them achieve their personal and spiritual goals.

The copy might be as simple as this:

“I’m writing today because I know you share my heart for [your organization’s ministry focus]. You’ve been a faithful and generous friend since [date of first gift]. I can’t thank you enough for your support. And as I thought about which of our friends should know about the urgent need on my heart today, you came to mind.”

There are dozens of other ways to build rapport, including envelope treatments, email subject lines, newsletter headlines. But the key is to understand that everyone and his brother is clamoring for your donors’ attention. Who are they most likely to engage with? Someone with whom they have an established rapport.

So, ask yourself: what do you share in common with your donors? Then use that insight as the basis of donor communication that constantly reminds your partners that you know them, care about them and want to help them find greater meaning through your organization’s impact on lives.