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Building relationships with donors

Katie Fitch

Written by Katie Fitch, Major Gifts Officer 

Each day, at Rainbows, we meet the unique needs of each and every child and their family. It is the level of personal, individualized care that sets Rainbows apart. Customized services are part of our culture. And that goes far beyond the way we treat children and families – it also impacts the way we interact with everyone, especially our donors!

In my role as Major Gift Officer, I get to build personal relationship with donors. We like to think of them as friends of Rainbows. This is done with two interwoven objectives:

First, we want to advance the philanthropic goals of the donor. What’s important to them? How can we help them make an impact?

Simultaneously, we look to advance our mission to enhance the lives of children with special needs and their families by bringing together community resources and providing customized services. Where our mission and the donor’s priorities align – we become perfect partners.

This alignment comes together through the donor cultivation cycle. This concept is a best practice across nonprofit fundraising. In many ways, the process parallels the work our Rainbows’ therapist and care providers do every day.

In philanthropy, we see identification as the first step in the process of donor relations. Through a current donor, a board member, a community connection, or in some other way, we meet a potential donor. This happens in the same sort of way another staff member might take a referral or answer a call from a family seeking services.

Qualification. As Major Gift Officer, I look to determine if the individual or entity might be interested in having a philanthropic relationship with Rainbows. In the fundraising world, this is called “qualification.” It is very similar to the screening and initial evaluation processes one of our therapists might do with a perspective new child or family. In both cases, it’s a matter of determining needs and how we “fit” together.

Cultivation. This is my favorite step. “Cultivation” is all about building relationships – getting to know a perspective donor and helping them get to know Rainbows.

The parallel with our services to children continues. Our Rainbows’ professionals offer the very best in care, treatment, and services to children and families – to bring their potential to life! This might be for a short season, to meet a child’s particular needs. Or, it might be throughout their childhood, depending on their progress, needs, and development. All the services are customized to meet the needs of the child.

And that’s how philanthropic cultivation works too. We meet donors where they are and develop a customized approach, hoping to help further their philanthropic interests and goals, as well as Rainbows’ mission.

Donation. This is the step in the donor cycle that people most often think of. But, it’s actually, typically, the shortest step in the process. This is when I get the opportunity to sit down with a donor and request a contribution. It’s a lot like when one of our Rainbows’ therapist tests or reevaluates a child, to see how they are doing. It’s an opportunity for everyone involved to see how the work is going. Have we met their needs? Are we progressing? If not, what can we do?

Stewardship. Stewardship is the final piece. It is the work of actively reporting, updating, and thanking our philanthropic partnerships. It’s exactly like the relationship one of our practitioners might have with a child and family as they receive services. Even after the child has learned, grown, and developed so much, there is often an opportunity for services to continue or new services are needed.

Then, stewardship leads right back into cultivation and the donor cycle continues. At Rainbows, we are blessed to walk with families through many seasons, as their child grows. Similarly, we are blessed to build long time relationships with our donors and supporters.

I love to see a donor fall in love with our mission and know the impact of their financial investment. And here at Rainbows, I get to do that each day, with individualized, personalized care – as we celebrate the gifts and goals of every individual!