Recently, I was invited by our local association of grantmakers to speak with a group of fundraising professionals about how to build strong relationships with donors. The intention was to engage in a discussion about what donors want and expect from grantees, and to allow participants to ask candid questions about this process. The amazing part of this conversation was that the topics covered and questions asked do not seem to have fundamentally changed over the years. The fundraisers wanted advice on how to effectively approach new donors, how to communicate appropriately with them over time, and what steps to take to create a productive donor/grantee relationship.
Eventually, most of the comments from the panel came back to the importance of clear and honest communication. Ironically, the fundraisers were asking these questions not of their own donors, but rather of funders with whom they had no prior relationships (the panel was intentionally designed this way to avoid any conflicts of interest or awkwardness between panellists and participants). But even with this precaution, the participants were very careful with their questions and were hesitant to talk about, for example, what they found most confusing or intimidating about the donor cultivation and stewardship processes.