Relationship Fundraising is like teenage sex:

Everyone talks about it,

nobody really knows how to do it,

everyone thinks everyone else is doing it,

so everyone claims they are doing it too.

Although I’m paraphrasing behavioral economist Dan Ariely’s take on “Big Data” the same insight applies to the much-touted, little-practiced concept of relationship fundraising.

It’s been 25 years since Ken Burnett published the classic Relationship Fundraising: A Donor Based Approach to the Business of Raising Money . In it Ken named and attempted to codify what has become known today as “donor-centered” fundraising.

Ken’s book was a reaction against and rejection of the use of “burn-and-churn” direct marketing and advertising methods used in the 1980s and ‘90s.  Techniques employed as cudgels to beat donors over the head with an organization’s needs rather than as a response to donors’ preferences.

How slowly we learn.  Although Ken’s wisdom and advice were widely acclaimed—and are to this day — few fundraisers put his insights and theories into practice. Had they done so today’s media-driven meltdown in UK fundraising and the pathetic retention rates in the U.S. and many other markets worldwide might have been avoided.

Why didn’t the fundraising world listen and act?

  • Because …practicing true relationship fundraising, donor-centered fundraising is hard work. Without proper and sufficient attention to strategy, goal setting, metrics and evaluation is not simple or simplistic.  It’s not merely reacting to what public opinion says or a fundraiser’s gut instincts on what donors want.  It’s about acting on what individual donors do, and what they choose


  • Because… boards, CEOs, CFOs and too many fundraisers believe the goal is the short-term transaction, not the longer-term return—unmindful of the ultimate cost to their organization.


  • Because…telemarketers, list brokers, printers, mail houses and agencies whose fees depend on volume couldn’t –or wouldn’t — think of a more sustainable model. As Upton Sinclair, the American muckraker noted, “It is difficult to get a man to understand something, when his salary depends on his not understanding it.”

Hopefully those forward-looking fundraisers getting walloped by flat or falling performance, declining retention rates and restlessness in the board room and executive suite will be willing to re-think the conventional approach to fundraising that too often resembles climate change denial.

If so, they now have a second chance thanks to a masterful new book.  

A Second Chance to Get It Right

 Donors For Life: a practitioner’s guide to relationship fundraising by veteran UK fundraisers Craig Linton and Paul Stein.

Donors for Life is more than a worthy successor to Ken’s Relationship Fundraising.  As its title suggests, this is a practical gold mine packed with lessons, practical tips and insights based on the hands-on experiences of two senior fundraising leaders.

If you want a well-researched, cookbook for putting the theory of relationship fundraising into practice Donors For Life  is an easy, enjoyable read packed with examples and case studies.  Step by step it resets the agenda for a donor-based approach to the business of raising money.’

In the Foreword to this book Ken Burnett cuts to the chase with the simple and powerful argument for putting Donors For Life to work right now:

“…relationship fundraising does seem highly prone to over-analysis.  For anyone alarmed by this, I’d say that, just like walking, sex, or cycling, it’s best if you don’t think too much about it at first but just do it.  Your natural instincts and sense of right and wrong will be your best guide as to how to put it into practice.  That said, there’s no doubt that if you do your homework into what donors want and don’t want and familiarize yourself with all the issues and complexities that surround the subject you will almost certainly have an edge over those that don’t.  What distinguishes a great relationship fundraiser from a merely good one is that the great fundraiser simply knows more. “

Through 20 packed chapters Paul and Craig not only provide helpful and practical examples, they also make clear the theory behind relationship fundraising.  Use this inside your organization as a bright light to shine attention on what commitment to a relationship fundraising approach means for your fundraising colleagues, other staff, volunteers, trustees, donors and your charity’s bottom line – your organization’s ability to deliver on its mission.

Simple, But Not Simplistic

Albert Einstein had some advice that is appropriate to most fundraising “how to” books and presentations: “everything should be made as simple as possible, but not simpler.

I fear that our trade has become so accustomed to the 45-minute webinar, the bullet-pointed PowerPoint, and the “10 Tips” approach that too often we miss out on truly helpful insights.  Simply too simple.

That’s not the case with Donors for Life where theory is married with practice in clear, illustrative terms providing the reader with valuable explanations of “how to” while explaining the reasons “why.”

Here’s a sampling of the content I believe Agitator readers will find quite helpful:

  • Relationship fundraising: what it is.Why people give and the importance of emotion.


  • Developing a relationship fundraising strategy. Creating a culture of relationship fundraising. Recruiting your donors.


  • The seven elements of successful donor recruitment.The seven elements in action: four outstanding donor recruitment campaigns.


  • Integration: creating a seamless experience for donors.A tale of two brands. Friends for life: welcoming and keeping your donors.


  • Community fundraising, mass participation events and peer-to-peer fundraising. Major donor fundraising: launching a twenty-first century program.


  • Transformative appeals. Techniques for specialist areas of fundraising.


  • Legacy fundraising.How do people make decisions?


  • Rekindling friendships. Measurement of performance, innovation and the planning cycle.

How to Order

 Donors For Life: a practitioner’s guide to relationship fundraising is available in the U.S. on Amazon here and in the UK here.  To date it’s not on Amazon in other countries.  HOWEVER…everyone can purchase Donors For Life directly from the publisher,  The White Lion Press. They’ll pack you book and ship it anywhere in the world and handle the currency conversion.  Here’s The White Lion Press order form.


I agree.



P.S.  HURRICANE UPDATE.  Production Solutions has created a special web page and will continue to  update its downloadable list of postal areas impacted by Hurricanes Harvey and Irma.  Click here.