Relationship Plans – December and Beyond

by Marcy Heim on November 24, 2017

“I am a one-person development team and this (relationship-action plan) helped me with basic ideas that are doable in my fundraising plan.  I want to work with as many donors as possible, but I need to act on those with the highest capacity and interest. Thank you!”  -Lynette

Many of the 650+ folks who joined me on the “Creating a Relationship Action Plan” webinar earlier this month had similar thoughts. YES! You can only create a highly personalized set of steps for your best prospective givers! You want to be amazing to everyone. I get it. BUT, you need to focus to maximize the results for your organization and to best value both your personal and professional success.

“Ms. Heim reminded me that people give to people that treat them well, and that the plan has to be written down and direct.” -Brenda  

YES! And on our webinar, I promised to dedicate this issue to addressing some of the questions you asked most.  Let me first answer, for those of you NOT with us…

1. What is a RAP?

A Relationship Action Plan is a written plan of the specific, artful actions you, and/or your partners, will take, at least once a month, with your top 25-50 givers over a year or more to facilitate their maximum long-term investments using reverse engineering.  

2. What are the 10-steps for a RAP?

  1. Givers highest in capacity & interest are selected–Focus is key to success

  2. Everything known is captured–this may be a lot or a little

  3. Partners are identified–not engaged yet, but in the mix

  4. Long-term giving goals/project(s) are identified–dream big and bold!

  5. Step goals/projects are identified–creates giving joy along the way!

  6. Partners are recruited and engaged–now that you have clearer giving goals, bring in the best partners to help!

  7. Action steps for monthly touches are planned for you and partners–don’t make this hard…what and who can help you share what you do and why it matters?

  8. You EXECUTE the plan–dusting it as it sits on the shelf doesn’t count.

  9. Has the giving goal been achieved? No judgment here.

  10. Adjust the plan moving forward–based on the current status, reset the compass!

3. “How do you make time to write and implement these?”(Jason)

This is sort of like getting ready for a big event or the holidays. The more major your donor, the more involved the plan and generally the longer your timeline. You need to get on calendars of both your donor and your partners. This is not about setting aside ½ hour and Boom! Done! Thoughtful plans take time to write, edit, share, rework – repeat. Once completed for the first time, keeping them current is much easier. And, once you have an overall plan, you free up brain space to be creative, maximizing the results (and fun) of your action plans. This was a new way of thinking for me.

4. “I was wondering how to engage our major donors more and how to actually get them to know just how much they have helped our organization?” (Paul)

Great question! In our busyness, we often work to arrange significant experiences for our major givers–visits with key leadership, tours, events, lunch with other donors, etc.  All great ideas. Be sure every touch has 1-3 key SIMPLE messages that clearly states how they have helped you do your good work. Thanks are best coming from Board members (which you indicate you are, Paul!)  Your sincerity is powerful. For Board and leadership, sharing your thoughtful VISION engages major donors in the dream…then your “thanks” completes the experience. YMAD means You Made A Difference. Be sure that 4-5 of your annual touches are specific impact examples. Sincerity shines here!

5. “What methods are typically used to convert volunteers to donors? (Susan)

You can use a relationship action plan for your volunteers as a group.  As you lay out the steps, ask what is important to the volunteers as a group?  Do they need a piece of equipment to better do their volunteer work? Would a space for them to have a cup of coffee be great? Is there some continuing education that they would all benefit from?  What dollars are needed to make one of these happen?  Who is really excited about it? Begin by thanking them for the results they have as volunteers. Then introduce the idea that they would all benefit from accomplishing such-and-such and investments of $100 to $1000 will make it happen! The dollar range depends on the number of volunteers and the total price tag of the project.  Work backwards from asking your volunteers to participate and the educational steps, support of leadership steps, maybe a gathering to launch…from the first step…get them to weigh in on the most important project for them to work towards.

6. “I wish she would have laid out an example RAP to see how exactly I could see myself using it. (Jenna)

We can have a multi-year vision and long-range big goal, but generally we map out the specific steps a year at a time. This is hard to do briefly. The steps depend heavily on your organization and your current relationship with your giver. BUT, in general, the first thing I do is chart out what will happen this coming year to ALL my donors. Then, I plot specific steps relating to the ask I would like to make within these other connections. I start by writing out my ask and planning when I want to speak the ask.  From there, I consider what has to happen for me to be comfortable speaking that ask and who can help me get these touches done. I hope that helps!

So you don’t ask, “Ok, what do I do next?” You look at where you want to be and work back from there.

7.“I was hoping for more detail on what the “monthly touches” would include.” (Amy)

You are only limited by your imagination. Gather donors and ask what they like best to do together, solo, and with folks from your organization. Ask–what can we do that better helps you understand our work and our impact?  I would gather 3-5 donors together and just listen. Here are some examples!

  • Chocolate chip cookies

  • Visit with recipient of services

  • Access to a conversation with leadership (no ask, just a conversation)

  • Thank you visits/phone calls/etc that are purposefully planned and executed on a schedule. (Not forgotten this way!)

  • Another donor sharing why they gave in person or letter

  • Lunch to catch up

  • Stories of others giving to this same project type to test for reaction and interest

  • Backstage pass, puppy visit, special reception…all with a planned message being shared

  • A personal email of holiday wishes

  • A story of the intended impact of the giving area being discussed

  • A tour of anything–in person, video, on your cell phone

  • More specifics about a project/program from knowledgeable staff member

  • “Just checking in.”

  • Deliver the newsletter in person

  • Anything that adds other people and life to your story

  • Etc. etc. etc

RAPS sound easy, but take careful thought.

“It got me focused on ‘donors’ as opposed to just systems, strategies and processes.” (Brenda)


“It made the process of asking more human and humane than Moves Management. It validated my own approach to donors, but amplified the importance of a written plan.” (Kristan)


Our work is this complex mix of details/staying the course and compassion/respect for those we serve and who invest to help us do our good work.  For all of you who juggle so many hats and wonder how to yet add one more thing, do consider that even 2 plans for your top 2 most impactful givers will force you to think ahead with them. It WILL make it easier to take action and help you stay in touch. Givers love consistency – knowing they will hear from you again…soon.

They are important to you. YOU are important to them.


Invest in JOY®





Marcy Heim is a trusted authority in the development profession and helps organizations and educational institutions boost their major gift programs through artful, long-term relationship building that dramatically increases fundraising success while promoting increased staff job satisfaction. To receive a free chapter from Marcy’s book, Empower Your Board to Serve as Effective Development Ambassadors, click here.

Questions:  Contact Cathy Yerges at


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