Many people understand that positive relationships are the key to longevity. In commercial enterprises, maintaining a solid relationship with customers and partners ensures continued success.

Businesses seek growth, opportunity and income, and strive to strengthen their relationships to remain productive and in business.

The nonprofit industry also thrives on its relationships with donors. Since their income is generally small because they serve the community, nonprofits rely heavily on their donors’ good hearts and willingness to give. Donors come in several forms, including individuals, foundation grants, and corporations.

Nonprofits tend to target numbers, thinking the more donors, the more money. However, this method and way of operating tends to leave staff tired, overworked and overwhelmed, with the organization struggling financially.

Why donor relationships are important 

Put simply, donors are the heart of the organization that pumps the lifeblood into the mission. Without donors, the nonprofit would struggle and might eventually cease to exist.

Donors need to feel a connection to the organization in order to continue their giving. Some nonprofits have loyal donors who give financially year after year. Some, in fact, leave an endowment to the organization they have supported for many years.

Building relationships with donors ensures continued financial stability so the nonprofit can continue to run and serve its purpose. While staff and volunteers are necessary for day-to-day operations, nonprofits are sustained by donors, as well as their fundraising activities. As long as the heart continues to pump, the organization remains active.

Three key ways to strengthen relationships 

1. Personal connection. Foundations and grant-makers require updates and numbers because of the amount of grants awarded. Post-award updates are important to the foundations so they know how their money is being spent and they see a return on impact (ROI). But if the nonprofit has been awarded a number of grants in a year, keeping up with the updates can be a challenge with little time.

Instead, targeting higher-paying donors and foundations versus lower-paying ones creates space for you to develop lasting relationships. The closer connection donors have with a nonprofit, the likelier they are to continue their funding. While not all foundations expect a relationship with the organization, there are many that would welcome the opportunity to have a deeper connection with the ones they enjoy giving to. And the same goes for individual donors.

Commercial businesses spend time grooming, entertaining and otherwise wooing their biggest investors and partners because they want to keep them. The investors and partners likely have a substantial stake in the business. They too would want to make sure their investment in the company is worth their time and money, which is why executives give them attention. Smaller partnerships would be handed to lower management and other departments because while these smaller partnerships are important to the business, executives are careful not to stretch themselves thin and instead, focus on the larger income percentage.

Nonprofits need to think likewise and similarly operate as a for-profit business.

While you may not be able to take all your donors to lunch, you do want to maintain a relationship by treating them as a valued partner and member of your team. The fewer higher-paying donors you have to focus on, the more your energy and time will be better spent, and the more recognition your donors will receive.

2. Volunteer opportunities. Many donors — especially corporate donors — love to be a part of what they are supporting. Offer volunteer opportunities to members of the giving foundation that will get them excited about your nonprofit’s purpose and goals.

Allowing volunteers an inside look of what your organization is trying to achieve, showing them your struggles, and letting them see and experience the joy of helping your target demographic will create advocates for your cause. When it is time for their foundation to support you again, these happy volunteers will have your back.

3. Continued updates. Do you enjoy getting a positive letter from a dear friend? Do you like seeing photos from friends and family sent via text, email or social media?

Do the same for your donors. People want to feel good about giving to others. When you treat your donors as friends and help them feel like a part of your family, it will be hard for them to say no to you the next time you ask for a grant or any kind of giving.

Share updates of how their donations are making a difference through stories as well as photos and short videos, as images have a powerful impact. And keep the updates positive.

How strong relationships benefit the organization

It is easier to nurture current relationships than to start new ones. As long as you maintain your donor relationships, they will feel a strong bond and will likely continue to give for as long as their budgets allow because of this personal connection.

The more they feel that connection and are personally included, the more they’ll tend to donate, and they’ll possibly increase their donation when their budget allows for more.

Working hard to strengthen that devotion will lighten the burden on you to fill financial gaps. Spending more time focusing on higher-giving donors means less time chasing after many smaller ones, allowing your focus to be on running the organization.

Commercial businesses do just that. They focus on keeping the partners they already have, allowing them more time to spend on operations and growth.

The more time you can devote to enriching and growing your nonprofit to fulfill its mission, the more your donors will be compelled to support you. Make your donors feel like partners in realizing the positive change you are bringing to your community.