Six Degrees of Separation: Using Relationship Science in Fundraising

You’ve heard it said that it’s who you know that counts.  Many successful people,  talent aside, advance in the world through the right connection.

If key to advancement is a matter of who you can get on the phone, what do you do if you didn’t go to Harvard, you’re not part of the Davos crowd, or you don’t regularly lunch at 21? 

In fundraising, Relationship Science makes all the difference.

At a Glance

Relationship Science holds a cat’s cradle of connections between the leaders and stewards of any two organizations.  If you put the names of your nonprofit’s leaders, supporters and stewards into the software, and the name of that foundation you’re trying to reach, or say a major donor prospect you’re trying to cultivate, you’ll see at-a-glance who among them may know someone there (or someone who knows someone). The report will also show you the relative strength of those relationships.

Your next step is to ask the leader (or whomever the connecting party may be) to pick up the phone and call the person they know. The point of his or her call is to ask that person to take a call from John, my development director, or Jane, my senior grant writer.  That’s all the board member has to do.  You then have “permission” to talk to the person about your nonprofit and its mission and programs.  If the contact is sufficiently moved to put in a good word, you just might get that grant or donation.

Harder to Secure the Meeting Than the Gift

One of our favorite sayings is that it’s harder to secure the meeting than the gift. Relationship Science aims at easing that burden. With Relationship Science you now are likely to have a path to the donor, someone he or she trusts, or at least knows. That makes all the difference. Chances are that if you can meet with the donor, the likelihood of securing the gift is pretty high.

Theory and Practice

That’s the theory.  But here’s some things to be aware of when putting it into practice. 

  1. Busy people in the managerial world generally will not take calls from someone they don’t know. The leader with the connection has to leverage his or her relationship to clear the way for your call. 
  2. The leader must act, and it’s really up to you to make the leader understand the process and its importance in fundraising.

  3. The leaders, supporters and stewards must have the connections to begin with. Entering the name of people with no contacts will not help you make the required relationships that raise money.  Leadership, stakeholder and Board development is an integral part of fundraising.  Your nonprofit has to be continually on the lookout for board candidates who can network effectively on your behalf.    

Odds & Ends

The software is paid subscription at a price that some may find a reach; however, one of the advantages of having access to it at our firm is that we have a shared use and the cost is evenly distributed among our many clients.

Another factor is that the leads in Relationship Science software have a corporate bias. You should factor that into your use of it, but it’s still worthwhile even if your leaders are not captains of industry.


Laurence A. Pagnoni, MPA addresses these issues in his new book Fundraising 401, which can be ordered here.  Please see especially the chapters on “Boards Are About Heavy-Lifting” and “The CEO is the Chief Fundraiser.”

We welcome your comments about this post on the LAPA blog.

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