Emerging Trends in Donor Relations

January 13th, 2010

This new decade heralds significant changes for Donor Relations and its influence on fundraising success.  We see that these emerging trends share a common theme:  to build better relationships with donors as a means of fostering greater giving.  As is the case with all relationships in our current crowded, information-saturated world, the emphasis will be on the quality, not the quantity, of donor interactions.
We’re monitoring five primary indicators, with an eye on how they’ll evolve and find expression in the day-to-day activities of our clients and their donors:

1.  Donor Relations is maturing as a formal profession – Research has proven that what matters most to donors is timely, accurate information on the progress made by the organization as a result of the donor’s gift.  This crucial responsibility has given rise to a new set of professionals dedicated to donor interactions that are effective, efficient and creative, the donor relations professional.  See the Association of Donor Relations Professionals website to learn more about the vital role they play.
2.  More institutions are formalizing donor relations policies and procedures – As the concentration on best practices in donor relations increases, fundraising organizations are defining specific policies and procedures that direct consistent, manageable donor touch points.  Decisions are codified, building sustainable programs that are not dependent on institutional memory or the talents of a single staff member.  Our website provides more information on Donor Recognition Policy Planning.
3.  Vendors are now offering “donor recognition” services, not just finished product – As clients increase their program expectations, vendors are providing “services” beyond those related specifically to the design and implementation of a specific display or set of plaques.  The most frequently offered service is an audit – a documented survey of all existing recognition elements – such as the Preserving Your History , services offered by Honorcraft.  While we have long advocated this “look back” as a first step in deciding what plans to formalize into policy, be aware that a product manufacturer, by definition, lacks an unbiased, strategic point of view. Generally, they also do not offer the marketing and communication expertise required to develop a fully comprehensive donor relations program meant to serve now and then evolve with the organization into the future.  The best bet is to seek out a consultant with no products to sell, one well versed in balancing the needs of annual, cumulative, planned and special project giving programs with the notions of moves management that foster continued giving.
4.  Online giving is increasing the fundraiser’s ability to reach broad audiences and analyze donor behavior – Automated giving vehicles, such as Groundspring.org, make it practical to manage a larger pool of smaller donors. Through technology it is easier to track the giving of those looking an affinity with the organization’s mission, signifying them as likely targets for major or planned gifts.  Note that it is critical that appropriate, affordable mechanisms for donor recognition emerge now in tandem with the growth in this sector. Doing so will assure the institution that the quality of the relationships with these donors (donor relations) remains high.  Again, communication and relationship-building with a new donor are keys to repeated giving!
5.  Online interaction between donors is anticipated – As social media continues to gain in popularity, it is only reasonable to expect that it will be a significant factor in the non-profit arena.  To date, we see fundraiser’s focused primarily on building an online presence through Facebook, Twitter and other social media venues.  However, as successes are achieved and documented, next will be the development of methods to monitor (if not control) the interaction between outside parties, including donors.  Those comfortable with social media are already embracing the technology.  See the C.A.S.E. award-winning University of South Carolina’s Faces of Y’ALL program for building a network of young alumni donors through social media, all the while capturing the data associated with those alums.

If you have comments, contradictions or other predictions, we welcome your additions to this list!  We’ll elaborate on these trends, among others, as the year progresses and look forward to your participation.

Written by Robin E. Williams

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