Donor Relationships: Organizations or Individual Fundraisers?
The most successful gift officer in your organization has just resigned and accepted the same position at a similar organization across town. Aside from the initial scramble to find a new fundraiser, you hear that your newly departed fundraiser is having dinner with a donor from your organization.

The best way to reduce the motivations for donors to follow fundraisers to a new organization is to foster an environment in which fundraisers know that their priority is to establish donor relationships primarily with the organization versus individual fundraisers.

The challenge? Human nature. We often say, “People give to people.” Donors may develop rapport with an individual fundraiser. They enjoy each other’s company and visits. But what if the donor starts offering free concert and sporting event tickets, free travel, and a week at their St. Barth’s vacation home? How should professional fundraisers respond? It is surprising how few advancement offices have a policy about fundraisers accepting personal gifts from donors.

Building Donor Relationships with Your Organization
When development officers cultivate and build relationships with prospective donors, they should focus should on strategies that align each donor’s interest with the organization’s mission. People make major gifts to organizations whose missions they embrace and whose impact and outcomes they want to expand.

Donors frequently make major gifts to organizations through staff members whom they like. When the fundraiser departs for a new organization, sometimes the donor may say that he or she wants to make a gift to the fundraiser’s new organization. That’s the donor’s prerogative. Organizations can help minimize the size and frequency of such gifts by employing best practices in acknowledging, recognizing, and stewarding donors and, therefore, increase the likelihood that major donors’ key relationships are with the organization versus individual fundraisers.

Donor Relationships and Social Media
Social media can be an important professional tool for engagement, cultivating, and stewarding donors by promoting programs and events, articulating mission, and illustrating impact.

Social media can also be challenging to an organization’s goal of keeping donor relationships on a professional level. If you are a fundraiser, do you accept a Facebook “friend” request from a donor? Or as a fundraiser, would you send a “friend” request to a donor?

Through researching the web and polling five hospital foundations and five university foundations, I wasn’t able to find any organizations that had policies for the fundraisers on the use of social media accounts and social media interactions with donors. Some institutions had university-wide, overarching social media guidelines and policies; however, there were no social media policies especially for fundraisers.

A fundraiser who works for a hospital may have accepted personal Facebook friend requests from donors. If the social media account is the fundraiser’s own personal account, donors can see the fundraiser’s social activities and vice versa. Does this stretch professional boundaries? If the donor’s relationship is with the organization, how can a personal Facebook, Instagram, or Twitter account advance that relationship?

Social Media Policies
A best practice is to create individual fundraiser social media accounts that represent the organization and its values and philosophy. The fundraiser can utilize those accounts—not his or her personal social media account—for social media engagement with donors that fosters relationships with the organization. This hybrid social media account also makes it easier to close the account. In sum, a best practice is to have a policy that dictates organizational ownership of social media accounts used by fundraisers as part of the work for the organization.

As the conversation deepens about donors and their relationships with the organization versus with individual fundraisers, organizations should have clear, precise policies about ethics and social activities for all staff, especially fundraisers.

Leadership can drive home the message by:

  • Continually fostering the organization’s mission and goals and engaging the staff in understanding their roles in doing so.
  • Creating and enforcing policies about fundraisers accepting personal gifts from donors.
  • Stressing that personal social media accounts should not be used for interaction with donors.
  • Having the organization own social media accounts used for donor interaction and insisting that passwords be shared.
  • Increasing awareness and creating training programs that can help reduce temptations to step outside the professional staff donor relationship.

Bentz Whaley Flessner understands the importance of supporting our clients in ways to cultivate and enhance relationships with donors that focus on the organization versus individuals in the organization. BWF can help your organization strengthen its policies regarding donor organization relationships. For more information, please contact us at (952) 921-0111 or visit Together we transform philanthropy.

Originally published March 30, 2016

Copyright © 2016 Bentz Whaley Flessner & Associates, Inc.

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