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Donna Caputo
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Relationship Mapping in Fundraising


Capacity + Inclination = Your New Donor Prospect, right? You may be missing one piece of the equation.

When it comes to finding new donor prospects, especially at the major gift level, organizations are accustomed to performing research and looking for individuals who have capacity and inclination to give. So, let’s say a researcher identifies such a person. The researcher writes a report and passes it along to a fundraiser. The fundraiser’s job is to get introduced to the prospect, cultivate a relationship, and turn the prospect into a donor.

What could happen after the handoff from researcher to fundraiser? Is it possible that the fundraiser is never able to connect with the prospect? That voicemails go unanswered and emails receive no reply? Yes, it is quite possible. Busy people are busy with their own priorities, not with ours.  Is there anything we can do to improve our chances?

Enter the Relationship Map. Relationship mapping is a process of laying out the connections between people. A relationship mapping process, performed against your most highly engaged constituents, can be a great way to find and prioritize prospects with whom your constituents already have a connection.  You can think about it like this:

  • Researcher develops a list of local business people who have capacity and a history of charitable giving;
  • Relationship mapping is performed between the researcher’s list and your Board of Trustees (or another group of highly engaged supporters) ;
  • A group of names from the research list with connections to members of your Board bubbles to the top!

Now you have a prioritized list of prospects for whom you can get a personal introduction! 

The Relationship Map doesn’t do the fundraising for you. It’s a tool to help you put your efforts into activities that you predict will have the best ROI. It’s a tool for effective fundraising. We only have so many hours in a day, so we want to make sure we use our time wisely -- that we work in ways that are most likely to result in success.

How do you build a map? You can invest in a tool like Prospect Visual, or Relationship Science to assist you. These tools have access to millions of people and companies, giving you a shortcut to the initial identification.   Or you can build a map using a visualization tool like Visio, or even set it up in Excel. Whatever route you take, keep these suggestions in mind:

  • Start small. Building a relationship map can be quite time intensive.  Set your organization up for success by limiting the scope of your initial map.
  • Develop specific goals for your mapping exercise, and create a step-by-step plan for your process.
  • Make sure everyone understands how you will use the map once you have created it.

A relationship map can help leverage the sphere of influence of your most loyal contributors. Use one to ensure you are inviting and engaging with your best prospects!

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