Cultivating Meaningful Relationships: The Secret Sauce for Sustainable Giving in Nonprofits

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I was recently talking with a leader of a nonprofit. Our discussion was about how they wanted to focus on recurring gifts for their end-of-year campaign. Recurring donations, after all, are considered to be the “special sauce” of sustaining a nonprofit organization for the long term.

The challenge is that most people don’t think of making a recurring gift as a part of their end-of-year giving. Instead, for a majority of people, they are thinking of making a “special gift” or a “one-time gift.”

They are thinking, “It’s Christmas time, and I want to bless the people and organizations I love.”

In the nonprofit world, we often think that these unique gifts aren’t as helpful because we can’t count on them over the long term. We can sometimes see these gifts as short-term gains and long-term losses.

But here’s the thing:

I think we minimize the importance of these gifts when we see them as “one-time gifts” or “special gifts.”

I give my wife a special gift every year.

We give our kids “special gifts” every Christmas.

These might feel like one-time gifts at the moment. But we can be confident that they will occur every single year.


Because I love my wife, we love our kids. We are in a relationship with them.

They matter to us.

If you are a nonprofit leader, a staff member, a fundraiser, or a board member, I want to invite you to stop feeling like “special gifts” aren’t good enough.

Not only does that perspective dishonor the gift and the giver, but “special gifts” may be just what you need.

If you cultivate and value the relationship and continue to offer meaning to your donors’ lives through your work, they will most likely continue to give year after year.

That sounds pretty “recurring” to me.

Here’s the point I am trying to make: the secret sauce of sustaining a nonprofit isn’t recurring gifts; it’s cultivating meaningful relationships.

Do that, and those coveted recurring gifts will come.

Todd Hiestand

Todd has over 20 years of experience as a leader in the nonprofit sector. He has served in a wide variety of roles, guiding digital marketing, technology, fundraising, eCommerce, and communications strategies. His expertise in developing systems and processes has helped launch organizations and sustain growth over time.