Many funders express similar challenges when it comes to developing and maintaining relationships with nonprofits:

  • Nonprofits do not understand the grant process
  • They do not know Development 101
  • They tend to not know how to cultivate or maintain relationships

While many factors are involved in snagging grant funds, relationships remain at the core of nonprofits’ financial stability.

With this all-important aspect of securing funds, why do many nonprofits fall short of building relationships?

Challenges nonprofits face

Most nonprofits tend to face similar challenges regardless of their size. They are often understaffed, which leads to everyone from staff members to the executive director being overworked and feeling overwhelmed. The executive director and president of a nonprofit should be the face of the organization and spend time with their funders in relationship-building activities, but instead they are often buried in operations.

All nonprofits are in need of financial backing, and securing funding takes a lot of time. In some cases, grant applications are applied for in rapid succession, with the focus more on quantity rather than quality. When applying for grants, planning fundraising events and paying the electric bill are nonprofits’ top priorities, cultivating relationships with their funders is often far removed from their radar.

But focusing on the organization’s mission needs to be a nonprofit’s No. 1 priority. And cultivating relationships with funders who will help it succeed in that mission is a part of that priority.

Importance of funder engagement

On an individual level, funders tend to give financial support for causes that appeal to them. Whether it is from personal experience or wanting to help the greater good, funders give generously toward something they can feel good about.

They also give based on emotion. One way to help them feel that emotional connection is by developing relationships with them.

On a larger scale, funders give because they see themselves as partners with the nonprofit’s organization. The organization aligns with the funder’s mission, and they see growth potential that ultimately helps the entire community. And they desire to be involved in some way.

Corporate foundations, for example, enjoy their presence in the community and want their employees to have a hand in building a sense of pride in their own neighborhood. The nonprofit has to resonate with the employees so they can be proud to support it.

Individual funders, corporate foundations and family foundations alike will continue to give when there is an established relationship and partnership with the nonprofit. If funders are personally engaged, involved in volunteer activities, and included in fulfilling the organization’s mission and objectives, then their commitment to helping with the nonprofit’s financial stability is assured.

Success in cultivating relationships when understaffed

Securing sustainable funding and major gifts from individual funders are the financial goals of nonprofits. Financial success means there is enough financial stability that the executive director does not have to spout “give us money” every time he/she meets a potential funder.

Ambassadors — board members or other volunteers who know the organization well, are passionate about its cause, and are willing to take the time needed to educate funders and continue strengthening relationships with them — can help when you are understaffed.

Some major funders volunteer their time with the nonprofit organization they financially support, such as the example mentioned above of a corporate foundation. Could they help you to advocate for your mission with other potential funders? For instance, major funders and board members have been known to open their homes for intimate events in support of the organization where they invite other potential funders to introduce them to the organization.

What else can you do to cultivate relationships and create bonds with your financial donors?

  • Invite funders to your organization for a behind-the-scenes look at your nonprofit’s goals and operations.
  • Invite them to see your programs in action.
  • Invite funders to your fundraising events.
  • Make sure the executive director and president maintain conversations with funders to not only keep them updated on your goals and programs, but to learn from them what they envision for your organization. Remember: they work with a lot of other organizations and may offer some unique ideas.

Hiring a consultant is also recommended to help you establish relationships and assist board members and other ambassadors in building those relationships. A consultant can help you learn your target market, develop a strategic plan toward sustainable funding, and act as a liaison (or ambassador) between your organization and your funders.

A consultant not only is trained in this area but also has the bandwidth and capacity to assist you. The consultant can outline a plan of action that will keep you on track. And the consultant’s goal is to help you raise funds so your nonprofit grows, so the initial investment in this area will decrease your stress and assist you financially in the long term.

Relationships are the foundation

Building relationships with individual funders and foundations is key to sustainable funding. Their long-term commitments to your organization will be the foundation that holds it together. With your core relationships solid, you can continue to focus on your mission and growth.

Cultivating relationships takes time. They are not a quick win. But with a clear strategy, support from your board and other ambassadors, and continued engagement opportunities with your funders, you can develop lasting bonds.