Building Relationships Take Work, But it Pays Off

Photo courtesy of Little Lights Urban Ministries

This guest post is from Jonny Moy, Development Assistant at Little Lights Urban Ministries, a small nonprofit that fundraised $80,000 in 24 hours during Give to the Max Day in DC last fall. I asked Jonny to tell us their secret.

We all know that relationships take work . . . sometimes a lot of work. As a small nonprofit working with under-resourced youth and families, we understand that building relationships is crucial for any community to thrive, and this certainly applies to maintaining genuine relationships with individual donors. The way we approach donor cultivation is not very different from the way we approach the children and families we serve, it revolves around treating them like we would our own friends and family.

Communicate to Communicate

At Little Lights, we have a heavy focus on building and maintaining relationships with our constituents. Consistent communication is key so we make it a point to share our exciting news as well as the difficult challenges we face. There also isn’t a hidden agenda when we communicate to our donors or volunteers; the main goal is communication, not donations.  Relationships are formed out of sharing passions, dialoguing, and listening, and we trust that donations will come after those relationships are formed and developed.

Donors as Friends

Face to face time is sometimes hard to come by, but we enjoy inviting our supporters to events like our annual banquet, Christmas party, or student performances.  When they come, we thank them in person and later on with a card. We wish our folks a happy birthday, keep our blog active, send monthly emails, send personalized letters, and engage them through social media. It’s not so different from the things many people do for their friends and loved ones.

Asking for a Favor

There are times in a friendship when someone has to ask for a favor, whether we need help moving or a ride to the airport. For us, this means asking for money. Consistently practicing these forms of communication makes it easier to ask for this kind of favor through varying appeals, especially for when events like Give to the Max Day come around.

Mobilizing our supporters for Give to the Max Day required a lot of work and preparation, but it was helpful to have already established sound relationships with our volunteers and donors.


When we first heard of the event, we promptly created a one month internal strategy, a 2 week public strategy, and an intense 3 day push leading up to the big day in an effort to make people aware of it, and to remind them when strategically appropriate. We also made sure to layout all that’s at stake with rewards and matching gifts, which created the urgency for people to respond and share our mission with their friends and family.

As our established community personally responded with donations, word spread quickly. By the end of Give to the Max Day, we reached 7,251 people on Facebook and ended up with 729 donors for about a 10% response rate. The response that was generated was only made possible through prior work building and maintaining relationships, and it was well worth it.