Tips to build lasting donor relationships for your nonprofitBuilding relationships is not only a cornerstone of continual donor development – it’s key to hosting successful fundraising events, too.

Why? With high event chair turnover and staff spread thin, many organizations end up trying to reinvent the annual gala, auction or tournament from from the ground up, year after year.

Investing more time in developing relationships now lightens the burden considerably for next year, asserts Noah McMahon, philanthropist, founder and CEO of Anonymous LLC (specializing in event production and philanthropic consulting).

“Relationships are like a web,” McMahon says. “If you treat everybody with respect and don’t expect anything in return, you end up getting so much in return.”

In today’s post, learn McMahon’s 3 building blocks to lasting relationships with donors, event sponsors and more to multiply the impact of every dollar raised. Then listen to the latest episode of our event fundraising podcast Events with Benefits (audio player embedded at the bottom of the post).

Building Block 1: Start with the end in mind.

“I’ve been involved in thousands of events over the past years, from events that raise over $10 million to events that simply raise awareness. But I probably spend more time talking people out of events than into them,” explains McMahon.

The first indicator of a potentially successful event is whether or not you have a goal.

Events with no goals have no rudder. When planning your event, is everyone on the same page about what it is you’re trying to achieve?

With your event committee, set measurable, ambitious targets for your event: dollars raised, tickets sold, media impressions, number of event sponsorships and so forth. Once you’ve determined what you want to achieve with your event, work backwards and figure out the best way of getting there.


Building Block 2: Think long-term.

Event fundraising is about building relationships, and that’s an even more important end goal than revenue raised in one night.

“I personally believe if you’re not raising at least 5 times as much money from guests after the event than what you’re getting night of, it’s not worth doing,” advises McMahon.

When planning the annual gala, auction, golf tournament and more, discuss the journey of potential donors introduced for the first time to your charity through an event. The donor may attend an event, then go through walkthroughs of your building, get to know staff, meet the Executive Director, get introduced to giving campaigns, and ultimately participate at a higher level of giving.

If a donor is properly introduced and feels connected to your cause and mission the night of your event, the sky’s the limit as far as how the relationship will develop.

A sustainable, worthwhile event should be a means to an end – with the ultimate goal of facilitating relationships between your work and your donors.

build long-term donor relationships for your nonprofit

Building Block 3: Consider what donors want.

A very common misconception in development is that relationships are a one-sided concept.

This is not only false but detrimental to what your organization can acheive.

“If all we think about is what we can get out of pockets the night of the event, that’s not good enough,” McMahon says. “Genuine relationships are much more fruitful – and people can tell when you’re being insincere.”

People give for a reason. And with so many causes out there, one must focus on how contributing to your particular cause makes donors feel. Understanding the minds and perspectives of your donors gives you a huge leg up among many excellent charitable organizations.

How can you figure out what motivates donors? By listening more than talking.

“Donors may be attracted to certain causes for a number of reasons: something that happened in their past, with their families, you name it. It’s imperative to regularly talk to donors face-to-face and find out the deep personal connections they may have with your cause.”


That said, every donor is different and thus has different motivations. While one donor may want their name on the side of a building, another donor may wish to remain anonymous.

Whether it’s recognition, personal fulfillment, or giving in honor of someone else, your organization can listen to donors and use those motivations to fuel both your fundraising event and annual giving campaigns.

This week on Events with Benefits: Thinking BIG

Today’s post was just a taste of the information provided by Noah McMahon in the latest episode of our event fundraising podcast, Events with Benefits. Noah offers invaluable tips to set ambitious goals, establish the right mindset and build relationships with donors. Learn…

  • How enduring relationships make event fundraising better
  • Tips to keep the focus on fundraising at your event
  • The importance of starting events with the end in mind
  • How to neutralize the “Debbie Downers” on your event committees …and more!

Hit play below to listen to the 30-minute podcast (or click here to visit the full site).