Lessons on nonprofit relationship cultivation from Amanda Palmer

I write a lot on this blog about relationships. Cultivating relationships with your supporters - and with people you'd like to become supporters - is what nonprofits using social media and social data is all about, after all

But I admit that I struggle sometimes to define what that relationship looks like. What's the day-to-day of a nonprofit fundraiser or marketer talking to a supporter or potential supporter? What kind of relationship should fundraisers seek to develop with donors and members, and how do you do that as an organization, rather than as an individual?

For example, I can have a relationship with my Aunt Julie that's personal, kind and mutually supportive, but how can I cultivate a relationship between a nonprofit organization and Aunt Julie that gives her the same feelings of "we're all in this together; let's help each other out"?

I think at least part of that answer can be found in the TED Talk by Amanda Palmer below. You may have already seen it, but even if you have, watch it again through the lens of a nonprofit fundraiser.

Here are the things that stood out to me:

  • People thrive on connections with other people, and they don't get them as often as we think they do in today's society. Amanda Palmer says of her work as a living statue: "So I had the most profound encounters with people, especially lonely people who looked like they hadn't talked to anyone in weeks, and we would get this beautiful moment of prolonged eye contact being allowed in a city street, and we would sort of fall in love a little bit. And my eyes would say, 'Thank you. I see you.' And their eyes would say, 'Nobody ever sees me. Thank you.'" Are you really seeing your supporters as individuals? How do you show them that you can "see" them? PETA, for example, does an excellent job segmenting its email list and personalizing their emails as much as possible. But beyond that, consider how you interact with supporters online. Do you treat them as anonymous? Or do you reach out with a warm, personal voice and really seek to have a conversation with them? Do you reach out to them first, perhaps finding them through keyword searches, or do you always wait for them to come to you?
  • People who are passionate about what you do and have built a connection with your organization will want to help you. "And the media asked, 'Amanda, the music business is tanking and you encourage piracy. How did you make all these people pay for music?' And the real answer is, I didn't make them. I asked them. And through the very act of asking people, I'd connected with them, and when you connect with them, people want to help you." The key here is that you can't really ask for help until that connection is built. Have you taken the time to build individual connections? Have you reached out to people online personally?
  • Don't be distant. Get up close. "For most of human history, musicians, artists, they've been part of the community, connectors and openers, not untouchable stars. Celebrity is about a lot of people loving you from a distance, but the Internet and the content that we're freely able to share on it are taking us back. It's about a few people loving you up close and about those people being enough." If you view your organization as sort of an untouchable celebrity, people will not be as engaged with you. Show that there is an actual person - not just somebody with a script - behind your social media accounts and on the other end of the phone.
  • People cultivate relationships with people, not organizations. Give your organization a face. "My music career has been spent trying to encounter people on the Internet the way I could on the box, so blogging and tweeting not just about my tour dates and my new video but about our work and our art and our fears and our hangovers, our mistakes, and we see each other. And I think when we really see each other, we want to help each other." Show the work you do. Show the people who do the work. Let people inside your organization and show them the passion among the staff and volunteers. Let them share that passion and be a part of what you do.

What do you think? What other lessons can be gleaned from Amanda Palmer's presentation?