Isn’t the honeymoon stage of a relationship great?! Things are new. Fresh. Exciting. I’m not referring to dating someone new; I’m talking about the beginning of the relationship with a new volunteer or donor.
When a new volunteer walks into the doors of your organization, they feel the possibilities are endless. In their eyes, the impact they will make as part of your organization is immeasurable. Through your organization, they will change the world. Your cause becomes their cause. The stars align.
During the early stages of the budding relationship, you tend to be more attentive. You show appreciation. You hold events, sending the supporter a personal invitation to be there. You show them they are special. You even create an exclusive online community where they can share, collaborate, and communicate with others who share their passions, fueling the fire and furthering the cause.
Somewhere along the way—maybe a year from now, maybe 10 years from now—things change. That supporter moves on to something new.
It doesn’t have to be an ugly breakup.
“I try to practice the idea of supporter as respected partner in every stage of the relationship with a supporter,” says Chris Bailey, Digital Fundraising and Communications Manager for Habitat for Humanity International, “learning not just what they’re passionate about but asking what kind of relationship they want with us. Then demonstrating that respect by taking action with this knowledge.”
It Takes More Than Technology
Associations and nonprofits of all sizes have seen the results of utilizing technologies like CRMs and online communities. These interactive platforms allow for deeper relationships with constituents and streamline the maintenance of individual supporter information.
In addition to the technology and data, Bailey emphasizes the importance of the people behind it.
“It’s just as important to ensure we have the right processes and people-systems in place so that every contact with a supporter is an opportunity to note personal preferences and ultimately recognize them as a unique individual,” Bailey says. “If we can learn what type of issues spark their interest, personal motivations, or even how often they want to hear from us and effectively use this information, then it shows a kind of respect that isn’t often shown to consumers. So it’s not only good relationship practice, it’s a foundation for being a remarkable organization.”
And just like any other relationship, the stronger your continuous connection has been, the smoother the possible goodbye becomes.
“As a digital fundraiser, it’s often difficult to know exactly when someone has moved on. We use words like ‘lapse’ and ‘reinstate’ with the idea that anyone might return to support our cause at any time,” Bailey says. “But on those occasions when we do learn that someone has decided to move on, one fantastic form of goodwill is to simply show gratitude. Say, ‘Thank you.’ Let them know how invaluable their support has been to furthering a cause that has been important to them. Reinforce how impactful they have been in their time as a supporter. It’s always possible, in time, that this former supporter could return to being an active, passionate supporter again.”
Taking the Relationship to the Next Level
Before you know it, you’ve spent 10 years working with this supporter. You know their interests, their impact, and the hundreds—maybe even thousands—of hours they’ve spent to further your cause. The relationship may be different, but that doesn’t mean they are truly gone. Relationships tend to ebb and flow. People change, but their commitment still matters—in both of your lives.
“Before I was in direct marketing fundraising, I managed membership for professional associations,” says Bailey. “There are friendships that I made in that role which remain to this day. I think the whole notion that we can separate our professional and personal lives does a disservice to all of us as human beings.”