The Frank Group brandmark

Relationship vs.Strategy

What's your vision of the future?

We professional development officers believe in relationships as a priority.  We see the person who is giving as the key to our causes. The very nature of a nonprofit is that a GROUP of PEOPLE care about a need or cause and volunteer and give to make that cause effective.

Yet, in our nonprofits we do not always ACT as if relationships are the priority. We generally act upon strategies that get us the best results, a.k.a. money. We will talk and train about people, but when we analyze, it is about metrics, measurements, and outcomes.

Can we find a balance? Can we seek to bring stewards to a point of decision about our ministry and our impact? And can we at the same time use strategy to be a tool for the journey without swinging the pendulum too far into numbers only?

Relationships are difficult whether in person or through a nonprofit connection. People require time, emotions, discipline, care, listening, and love. Yes, love. We have to love our donors. We have to see them as people who are seeking to join with us in our cause, in our calling.

Strategy is critically important, but it must serve relationships not command them. In other words, a strategy is the tool or path we in development must use to provide a connection for stewards to be connected to, or "touch" the front lines of our cause.  Does an appeal letter strategy touch people? No, not the letter, but the story within the letter should touch the heart and soul of the reader. Then the strategy takes them the steps to move from their heart to taking action, a gift.

Here are a few ideas when considering relationships before strategy:

  1. When you plan out your development strategic plan, use types of relationships as your starting point.
  2. When planning, think external viewpoints rather than internal viewpoints. External will focus on people in everyday life; internal tends to think strategy and measurements first.
  3. When planning a major donor contact, discuss the PERSON, their likes, dislikes, and giving priorities. Try to avoid moves management, analysis, etc. as the top or first priority. (Notice I said top priority. Strategies are still important.)
  4. Start your development team meetings with short reports, letters, etc. from donors and stewards. Get your team thinking about people before you jump into strategy.
  5. When writing your board report, start with a steward testimony.  Do not start with "Net" Income. This will train your board to value money above relationships. Give them a story about how people love and give to your organization, your CAUSE. Always remind the board that development is about connecting God's people to God's work, not just resource development. Every gift is as a result of a person's actions.

Relationships are difficult to evaluate in the first place. Then we try to create a strategy to please and connect them. Then we measure what happens. It can be very frustrating and very time-consuming. But it is the right thing to do. The more we refine our strategies to serve and empower relationships the more our donors will sense a fresh renewal of our mission. And that is what we are called to do above any strategy — our mission.

Let me know what you think,


Dr. John R. Frank, CFRE, CCNL