The OAF Blog

Creating a rapport with your Donors

January 28, 2013

Whether you are the Executive Director, Artistic Director, Development Manager or Board member, if you are actively involved in the administration of an arts organization, it is likely that you get involved in conversations with donors – individuals and families whose time and financial support help sustain your organization and its programs. Some people have a natural gift for establishing a personal rapport and building a trust relationship with people, greatly enabling conversations where the expected outcome is new or additional financial contributions. Most of us struggle, to some degree with parts of this process.


Bristol Stragegy Group Report

A short report I came across from the Bristol Strategy Group (2010) illustrates the art of holding conversations that build trust between two people in a clear and simple way.

Establishing a relationship involves listening to the other person – it is much more important than what we say in a conversation. There are three quite simple questions to incorporate into a conversation with your donor:

  • “What do you want to achieve?”  - described as the ‘success’ question to learn what motivates your donor; 


  • “What do you want to avoid?” -  deepen your perspective on donor motivation by learning what the donor wants to ‘avoid’ –  What don’t they want to happen if they support you,  for example, your organization and programming no longer exist; 


  • “What helps you decide what charities to support?” – allow you to learn what your donor’s expectations are for service, recognition.


The article suggests that using the three questions changes a conversation to one of respectful interest focusing on the donor and their reasons for giving/wanting to support your organization. Going into a conversation, you will be rightly proud to speak about your arts organizations’ mission, programs and challenges for success. It is important to begin by understanding what your prospective (or current) funder wants to support, what motivates them to give and what their expectations are by providing their financial support.



Prior to starting a conversation, you should be clear on what you want to accomplish at your meeting. In building a successful donor relationship, prepare by learning as much as you can about the donor before the meeting starts. When you meet, focus on listening – what are you hearing, which may differ from the words your prospect/supporter actually uses. Does that help you understand if this is a strong prospect, and can you meet their expectations? You hope to come away with knowledge that helps you build a strong and enduring relationship with a donor – they will become an advocate of your arts organization. Your time is precious, and the questions can create a positive atmosphere where both parties may find out - ‘we aren’t right for each other’. Not everyone will say ‘yes’…..


The Three Questions

Using the three questions creates an opportunity for an informative dialogue that lets the prospect know you are personally interested in them. The approach is equally applicable with current donors as you try to deepen current levels of support. Donors may respond differently to the ‘success’ and ‘avoid’ questions and using both can give you a deeper insight into their beliefs. The last question will help you learn what the donor expects from you in return for their financial support.

The questions described in the article are simple and can be used by anyone in your organization – they are easy to ask, and people like to respond. You are keeping the focus on them and not you, allowing you to learn important information about the profile of the donor, while quickly building a trust relationship with that person.





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