Building donor relationships one move at a time

Over lunch this week someone suggested an analogy between building relationships and chess.I love chess (the most played ‘sport’ in the world by the way). So I listened.


As all good chess players will tell you, you need to think ahead. A good chess player can think upto 5 moves ahead and then plays their next move accordingly.

And so it is with building relationships with donors. You need to think ahead. Then it will become clear what your next action should be.

The point was well made by a few weeks ago by a speaker at the UK’s Institute of Fundraising Conference on major giving who was once told by a prospect “No one gives you a sparkly ring on the first date“.

Yet the pressure is on for fundraisers to deliver results now. And when the pressure is on that’s when it is all to easy to make a mistake. In chess it’s making a rush move when you haven’t thought ahead. Game over.

I did exactly this the other week – a Friday email following up a major donor proposal to a prospect. It was an impatient move. It didn’t feel right at the time. And sure enough I had a gracious response from the prospect which said “be patient”. Lesson learn’t (and a follow up apology from me which was well received – “don’t worry you’re doing your job”).

So you need to take your time. Ironically it’s often the quickest way to achieve your goal. That’s not to say it will be slow. Take the right steps to build a relationship and things can move fast. A game of chess can move at a fast pace once you see a sequence of moves unfold in front of you.

We happen to live on a planet which revolves around the sun in 365 days. So we structure our plans around a year, typically with monthly communications. And we often expect relationships to follow that cycle too. But of course the reality is they don’t. Relationships just are.

So as valentines day approaches think about building relationships with your key supporters, and especially your prospective major donors, one step at a time. Try thinking upto 5 moves ahead and then ask yourself what is the next step? It doesn’t have to be anything major. Even in chess a simple pawn move can open up all sorts of opportunities down the line. Then 5 steps on you are in a much stronger postion, and perhaps ready to make the ask, or get the commitment you are seeking. Checkmate.

3 thoughts on “Building donor relationships one move at a time

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