3 Best Practices for Effective Relationship Mapping

relationship mapping

Earlier in 2017, iWave introduced relationship data to Prospect Research Online.  Now we’re going to cover three (3) best practices for implementing a functional mapping program that provides great results.

Tim Wowk is the Associate Director of Prospect Research & Constituent Data at Queen’s University.  He offers some excellent insight into how to develop a relationship mapping program that works.  We’ve included some of Tim’s thoughts, as well as our own, below.

Establish Clear Policies and Procedures

Relationship mapping allows fundraisers to graphically present connections between constituents, alumni, friends, and prospective donors.

Just like your fundraising strategy must be air-tight, a good relationship mapping program requires specific goals and a detailed, step-by-step process to attain those goals.  Tim suggests the first step is getting senior administration in the loop.  You may understand the benefits of relationship mapping for your organization’s fundraising efforts, but not everyone will.  “Relationship mapping can be resource intensive and key decision makers need to understand, at least at a conceptual level, how an RM program will benefit the institution or organization.”

Next, prepare a formal plan to act as the program bible.  Review mapping software programs including online solutions like Relationship Science, and other do-it-yourself solutions.  Calculate the resources, including time, needed to develop and maintain the mapping program.  Now you can determine the program’s scope: will you model your map off your board, major gift donors, or your entire database?  Consider presenting this plan to senior administration for their feedback and guidance.

Ensure Continuous Quality Improvement

Tim suggests starting small is perhaps one of the most critical pieces of advice when developing a mapping program.  Developing any new procedure is an intensive learning process.  First, expect to make mistakes.  Next, conduct some initial tests of the software or model you’ve chosen.  Additionally, ensure the tests are vigorous and focused.  “A considerable amount of time, money and political capital have been invested in the project and an extra level of due diligence is needed.  Choose a representative test group and test how the program works in real time with real people and in a real-world environment.”  From here, you can make the necessary changes and adapt.  When you’ve determined a process that works, remember to include it in the program bible for future reference and for training new development professionals.

Evade Common Pitfalls

Avoid these snags in your relationship mapping program:

  • Acquire the wrong relationship mapping tool.

Part of having an effective plan in place means acquiring the right tool.  “A DIY mapping program offers the most flexibility, but also requires the most support and expertise,” says Tim.  “Web-based programs offer relatively quick access to mapping but fewer options for customization.”

  • Share constituent information without consent.

Right now, there is a lot of buzz about donor privacy.  This could impact not just your relationship mapping efforts, but your fundraising program itself.  “Project leads need to be aware of organizational privacy policies that can impact their ability to share constituent information with third-party providers.”  This is why having the support of senior administration and your board of directors is critical.  Know your boundaries, and work within them.

  • Let your mapping program slide once it’s fully developed.

Finally: “Continuity is key,” says Tim Wowk.  Relationship mapping requires a significant investment of time, resources, and manpower just to get started, let alone maintain and improve.  Don’t let this investment go to waste.  Go back to your program bible and start from the beginning.  Additionally, review your goals, processes, data, and tools on a regular basis.

Implementing an effective relationship mapping program requires support from several stakeholders, including senior administration and board directors.  It also depends on well-defined policies, including a realistic plan that defines the project’s scope, goals, and procedures.  In conclusion, it’s true that fundraising is all about relationships.  Developing a relationship mapping program that suits your organization’s needs could add significant value to your bottom line.

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