How to Build Relationships with Your Donors Using LinkedIn

By | November 11, 2013

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In June, I gave a talk to the Kitsap Development Officers Group in Poulsbo, Washington, about how I used LinkedIn when working with major donors. (Thanks to Chris Davenport for the invitation!)

There is lots of chatter all around about how social media can help with fundraising. Fundraising still works the “tried and true” way, by building authentic connections. For me, social media is just a tool… and fundraisers need lots of tools at the ready to do the job.

Using tools to manage information – donor databases, wealth analysis, social media – can help move relationships along. Here’s how I have used LinkedIn with mid-level and major donors.

Your Profile: Be prepared for your donors to see you in the best light, just as you would for a donor meeting.

Your LinkedIn profile should be YOU – professional, yet with a soul.

Not yet on LinkedIn? Open an account and get going with some of the basic information. LinkedIn is the place you want people to be able to get a bit of information about you when they search your name – rather than Facebook, blog comments, or even just the staff listing at your nonprofit. Noland Hoshino is a real whiz on using LinkedIn and pointed to a great link. (Follow him @NolandHoshino.)

If you already are using LinkedIn, review your profile; better yet, have a colleague or friend take a look. Your profile should reflect your current position and title and at least one position previous; it’s not necessary to have your entire work history. Update your summary too.

Since many people only update the LinkedIn page when they are looking for a job, consider how it appears to a donor’s eyes. Take the time in your profile to include your talents and skills and the responsibilities and enthusiasm you feel about your current. Check out this link to great summaries.

Ensure your photo is current – that way donors can easily recall who you are. And although privacy is important, restricting your photo only to those who are already connections limits the opportunity for donors to see who you are before they connect.

Refine your contact information. Is the email for your fundraising position there? You may wish to make that your primary email. Listing every email you use ensures people can find you.

Donors will likely see and review your profile the first time you call or come for a visit (Brock Warner @BrockWarner talks about his experience).

Your Network: Build your connections carefully and respectfully, just as you would in your job.

If you are new on LinkedIn or don’t have many connections, building your network is helpful. Review your current contacts (you may upload your email contacts which may include family, friends and colleagues) to see who is already on LinkedIn and connect with those you know well.

Personalize your invitations.  LinkedIn makes it too easy to invite people in bulk and they aren’t personalized. Ensuring that these links are solid connections helps later if you decide to seek  introductions through your LinkedIn contacts.

Connect with Your Donor: Extend invitations respectfully and authentically

I only ever extend a request to connect on LinkedIn after I have met the donor or prospect.

If this is the first time I have met him, her or the couple, I provide my business card at the end of the meeting and they will likely do the same, either a business card or a personal calling card.

I then send a thank you for the meeting and follow-up on anything agreed. I sometimes handwrite the thank you note and use email to detail promised follow-up.

Usually before the donor meeting I check to see if she or he is on LinkedIn since interesting public information can be found which may help with your conversation. How can you tell if the profile is active? There is a photo, there are at least 50 connections, and the occupation or summary reflects current information.

I wait a few days after the meeting to send a LinkedIn invitation. When I do, I personalize it and write something like, “It was so great to meet last week, I thought we might connect here as well,” and type my name, ‘Beth Ann’ since the invitation will have ‘Beth Ann Locke’ automatically. I remove the standard “I would like to add you to my professional network” because it is dull, impersonal and doesn’t refer to our past interaction or linkage. I usually choose the connection type as “We have done business together” and then link my current job.

Stories: Discovery via LinkedIn

Sometimes a donor or prospect shares interesting information on LinkedIn.

The information on LinkedIn tends to be details that your donor or prospect is comfortable – or even proud of – sharing. If your donor looks social media savvy, then they likely won’t be surprised you saw something.

As a  fundraiser you should already have read the background on your donor and his/her relationship to your nonprofit. Sometimes charities don’t have good donor files, or past colleagues didn’t leave notes. LinkedIn may provide current position, education, career history, and the like.

Since I have worked as a fundraiser in both the US and Canada, some information may reveal shared interests, cities, education and the like which may help drive the conversation. Information I have learned is:

  • The donor in Seattle attended university in Toronto where I had lived.
  • The donor is an avid collector of “ticket stubs”
  • The donor was the youngest person to have a ham radio license in his state.
  • The donor listed volunteer experiences which helped me discuss his or her philanthropy.

I never lead with this information but in a discovery or first meeting, some of this can help you understand your donor as you learn what is of most interest to him or her.

LinkedIn can help track career moves that your donor has made and will make.

LinkedIn can also help you see connections your donor may have, but I would never use this information to ask for a connection to another donor or prospect. I believe it is always so much better to speak with the donor to see if he or she is willing to act as an advocate, connector or champion of your cause. Then you can move from there.

How are you using LinkedIn to create better relationships with donors?


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ba_locke_6aug11_426Beth Ann Locke is a consultant, providing strategic planning and support to nonprofit clients. She specializes in helping organizations build relationships for donors or prospects, through board trainings and retreats, establishing or streamlining fundraising systems and consulting on donor strategies and moves management. Beth also enjoys building audiences and increasing donor participation through work with individual donors, events, and social media strategies. Learn more about Beth at her blog or follow her on Twitter@FundraiserBeth.

2 thoughts on “How to Build Relationships with Your Donors Using LinkedIn

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