Relationships give, not relationships take

“Some of the biggest challenges in relationships come from the fact that most people enter a relationship in order to get something. They’re trying to find someone who’s going to make them feel good. In reality, the only way a relationship will last is if you see your relationship as a place that you go to give, and not a place that you go to take.” — Tony Robbins

A high school friend posted this quote on Facebook yesterday — and it stuck with me all day. It stuck with me all weekend, really. Robbins was referring to intimate/romantic relationships, I assume, but this can be true of all types of relationships: teacher/student, customer/vendor, parent/child, and even donor/organization.

There are some development people out there who believe that donors are to give; that’s their “job” as defined by the very word that marks them (the etymology is the Latin word donare, which means to give as a gift). But surely there must be more to it. When someone makes a gift of time, talent, and resources to an organization, it is because they have formed a bond — a relationship — with the organization’s mission, services, role in the community, staff, and board. The organization is giving to the donor through this relationship in some profound way (and there are many different ways, depending on the circumstances). The donors trust that the organization will work to fulfill its mission with the support. The donors feel satisfaction that the gifts will make some difference in the community. The donors feel connected on a personal level with a cause or issue important to them.

How should an org go about validating, strengthening, and respecting this relationship? By giving of themselves to make it a true and selfless relationship. Keep your donors informed of news and developments, invite them to open houses or tours, send timely and up-to-date progress reports and annual reports, and pick up the phone once in a while to check in with them and re-engage. Listen to what they have to say — listen, listen, listen!

If your donors only hear from you once or twice a year when you send another annual giving letter or invite them to your big, splashy, fuzzy-missioned event… c’mon, that’s not a real relationship! Really, your org is acting like a selfish and surly teenager — expecting to receive Christmas and birthday gifts without being very pleasant or engaged members of the household on non-gifting days. (Can you tell I have a teen?)

What steps are you taking in your relationship building to ensure that your organization is giving more than it’s getting?

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