As explored in Part 1 of this 2-part series, small to mid-sized organizations are uniquely capable of creating a sense of community, even family. This is what people yearn for. And it gives you a secret advantage when it comes to nurturing the relationships essential to developing and sustaining a strong mid-level and major gifts program.
You’re never too small to generate major gifts!
A lot of what makes a good mid-level or major gift fundraiser is the same as what makes a good friend or family member — simply paying attention.
Notice what the donor’s gift today is compared with their last one. Notice if they’ve earmarked it for something special, and if that’s different from the last time they gave. Notice if they attended an event. Or if they registered for an event, but failed to attend. Notice if they gave spontaneously, without an ask, and wonder what may have inspired this. Notice when the last time someone from your organization talked or met with them personally.
All these things you notice are opportunities.
10 Top Strategies to Leverage Your Secret Advantage
1. If a donor makes a stretch gift, or gives an increase over their previous gift, enthusiastically acknowledge this.
Personally, and promptly, acknowledge any greater-than-expected generosity. For example:
- Establish a threshold at which you will automatically make a phone call or send a text to immediately acknowledge an above-average gift. [See #9, below].
- Ask your gift processor to take note of increased gifts from renewing donors. Tag these to receive a variation of your thank you letter that acknowledges your appreciation for their increased gift!
- Ask your gift processor to take notes of gifts that move donors from one giving society level to the next. Have these thank you letters pulled so you, the development officer, can write personal notes showing you noticed they stepped up!
2. If a donor attends a fundraiser or donor appreciation event, plan ahead to show your appreciation.
Make it a point to personally greet every donor, and try to get to know them better. For example:
- Review your guest list in advance so you can assign appropriate staff or volunteers to personally make a connection.
- If a donor has shown an interest in a particular program, assign a representative of that program to meet them (e.g., staff member; another donor who supports the program; program volunteer or beneficiary).
- If it’s a sit-down event with a seating chart, include people you believe your donor will enjoy at their table. Ask these assigned people to connect personally with the donor (and plan to debrief them later so you can add appropriate notes to your donor database).
- Ask the person you assigned to connect to write a personal note or email after the event, letting the donor know how much they enjoyed meeting them and offering to answer any questions they might have.
3. If you wonder why a donor gave, or what they care most about, ask them.
Why a donor gives to you is just about the most important thing you need to know about them. If you’re a big organization, you might have to leave finding the answer to chance. I want you to be more proactive by incorporating opportunities for donor feedback into your communication, cultivation and stewardship strategies. For example:
- Periodically (at least annually) send a donor engagement survey. There are many ways to do this, but the point is it needn’t be expensive or difficult. If you want people to share their names and contact information, consider entering participants into a raffle to win a prize if they complete the survey.
- Set up person-to-person meetings with targeted mid-level and major givers so you can directly ask what most floats their boat. (Virtual works swell too). Use the feedback you gather to inform future strategies, e.g.“I thought you’d enjoy this article!”
- Ask for comments when you share information via blog, e-newsletter or social media. “Always be asking”doesn’t just apply to gift solicitation; show you have an interest and are open to supporter input.
4. If you make a mid-level or major gift appeal, ask the donor to give a specific amount to a specific project they care about.
Many donors will give more passionately if they can choose where the money goes. If you know what they care about, ask them if this is where they’d like to direct their gift. In my experience, about half the people will let you make the decision, while half will make their own choice. Donors choosing to earmark their gift specifically will make larger gifts, on average.
Plus, give them something specific to chew on in terms of an amount.
- If the amount suggested is too high, they’ll let you know.
- If the amount suggested is too low, they won’t; you’ll miss out and they’ll feel a bit deflated.
- If the amount suggested is too vague, they’ll feel uncomfortable – never a good outcome.
5. Keep a database record of questions your donor has previously been asked by other fundraisers.
Nothing irks a donor quite like a revolving roster of fundraisers asking the same set of questions the donor already answered. It makes them feel their time was wasted, and no one really cares about them. Put in place a process of consistently, and promptly, adding donor information to your database in a location where everyone on your staff can easily find it. For example:
- Maintain, and constantly update, a Data Entry/Reporting Manual.
- Assure everyone on staff (and volunteers with database privileges) enters the same type of information in the same fields. If one person enters info into “notes,” another into “actions,” and another into “campaigns,” it’s unlikely you’ll end up pulling complete donor profiles when they’re needed.
- When you have staff turnover, be sure to debrief the fundraiser who is leaving. Ask them to print a report for donors in their cultivation portfolios and review it with you so you can ask questions and annotate.
- When a new staff member arrives, sit down with them to review the report left by the previous staffer.
6. Make sure you follow up right away with donors who make a commitment.
Unfortunately, I’ve had the puzzling experience (as a donor) of letting a staffer know how much I intended to give; then no one followed up. As time passed, I forgot all about it. I actually thought I’d given, but they never received my gift. I found out only when I didn’t show up in their printed donor honor roll. My bad? Or their bad? Do these things:
- Send yourself a reminder text or email anytime someone commits to you when you’re on the go; deal with it immediately when you return to the office.
- Regularly debrief other staff or volunteers who are meeting with donors so you can stay up to date about any commitments made.
- Have a policy of recording and cashing all checks received immediately. If someone hands you a check at an event, don’t keep in your purse or pocket for a week. And don’t let checks pile up in a drawer to be entered/cashed at the end of the week, month or worse.
7. Keep up to date with gift entry and acknowledgements.
Way too often I receive solicitations from organizations to which I’ve recently given — even after they’ve cashed my check! It’s confusing to me, because then I wonder if my gift was properly allocated, let alone appreciated. Then I start to think they’re not well run. Maybe if a donor gives a day or two before an email goes out you can be given a pass. Maybe. But… don’t forget your secret sauce: you’re not too big that the cogs of the wheels must run this slowly! Please, run new reports before sending out appeals to folks who’ve recently been solicited and may have given! For example:
- If you send an emergency appeal, weed out the donors from the non-donors before sending a second appeal.
- If you send more than one year-end mailing, exclude the donors to the first appeal from the second appeal.
- If you send out two Giving Tuesday emails a week apart, check to see who donated to the first appeal before you send out the second one.
- If you send out three emails the last week of December, run new non-donor reports before each follow-up email launches.
NOTE to sow confusion? Here’s a counter-argument (from Jeff Brooks, who I tremendously respect) to pulling recent donors out of your subsequent solicitations. Jeff notes studies indicating the more recently someone gave to you, the more likely they are to give again. I would say “it depends.” To really know what’s true for you, you need to do your own testing. Since this article is primarily about your secret advantage vis a vis mid-level and major donor retention, try to avoid what many of these donors perceive as “nickel and diming.” It’s fine to send a second appeal for a different purpose, but consider carefully before sending the same appeal, in rapid succession, to donors who already gave generously to that appeal (unless you’re able to segment them and gratefully acknowledge you know they already gave (e.g., “Thanks for your recent support. The earthquake emergency need remains great, so if you know anyone else who may want to help, please forward this to them. It truly takes a village, and your kindness in reaching out to others means a lot.”). I think Kevin Schulman, who I also respect, agrees with me. And, regardless, get your data entry done promptly so you can make thoughtful, human decisions – you don’t have to be a robot!
8. Notice if a donor asks you to correct something.
If I ask you to change my email, phone number, address or marital status, I expect you to do so. If the next solicitation includes my deceased husband’s name, I will not think of you fondly.
9. Use the telephone more.
We all carry them around, so they’re a pretty primary and direct way to communicate. And if the donor likes your organization (which they do, because they already gave you an above-average size gift), they likely will welcome a connection that isn’t asking for money. At the very least, call promptly (within 48 hours) purely to say thank you. You can learn who, how, when and why in my free Thank You Calls E-Book + Script. Easy strategies include (your thresholds may differ depending on your size and fundraising history):
- Call all first-time donors 0f $100+
- Call all donors of $1,000+
- Call $500+ donors who make gifts earmarked for specific programs (ideally, have the program director place the call)
- Call at least one other time during the course of the year – and don’t ask for a gift (consider having students, beneficiaries or volunteers make these calls).
10. If inviting a donor to an event, don’t wait until the last minute to extend a personal invitation.
This article is mostly about leveraging your smaller size or local breadth to energetically engage with donors likely to make transformative gifts. So, with mid-level, loyal donors who give above average, and of course with major donors, you should be at least as courteous as you are when inviting family and friends to join you for an event. Too often, some of your closest supporters are treated as an afterthought. Ever sent a frantic “please attend our event tomorrow night, we need you!” when an event is undersubscribed? Try these strategies instead:
- Immediately after mailing or emailing an invitation blast, reach out separately to your targeted mid-level and major donors with a “Did you receive our invite? I hope you’ll attend. I think you’ll love this event! Let me know if you’re coming so I can be sure to say hello.”
- Follow up with a reminder phone call if you haven’t heard back, noting you look forward to seeing them.
- Then, if you’re undersubscribed towards the end, your final call will seem natural rather than desperate. And you can even throw in a “if you can’t make it, let’s set up a time for a call soon – what days next week might be good for you?”
Be the little engine that could!
You’ve got the heart, and you’re blessed with less red tape than larger nonprofits. Sure, you want to be professional. But in today’s world of increasing automation, the fact you’re able to take a beat and apply a considerate human touch is a distinct advantage.
Sure, over time, work on getting up to speed with new tools that will ultimately lighten your workload. But don’t forget to prioritize making donors feel really good about their giving to you. That’s what will get them to continue, do more over time, advocate on your behalf, and maybe even leave a legacy gift!
The four, five and six-figure donors leaving the big guys because they feel their gifts are mere drops in the bucket? Let those folks become near and dear to you – and show them how valued they are!
Want to Learn More About Facilitating Passionate Philanthropy?
Major Gifts from A to Z: Get all 4 volumes at a ‘Bargain Bundle’ discount.
That’s why I created the Major Gifts Playbook. It’s an easy, step-by-step, four-volume journey where you’ll learn how to develop and implement a successful major gifts program for your small to medium-sized organization. For major gift prospects to become viable options for you, you must become meaningful to them. You can’t ask virtual strangers for major gifts. This means a systematic process of building relationships where you and your prospective donor continue to learn more about one another over time. You can buy each of these guides individually too, if that better meets your needs. But you’ll get a bargain buying the bundle.
All Clairification products come with a 30-day, no-questions-asked, 100% refund guarantee. So you can’t lose. I’ve packed decades of experience into these guides, and I really want you to benefit. But if you’re not happy, I’m not happy. So… no worries. [Please note if you’re a Clairification School student you’ll receive a generous discount. So be sure you’re logged in before purchasing. And if you’re not yet enrolled, now would be a good time.]
Image: Three San Francisco Hearts Even From Far-Away I Love U. Ridhaan Desai. Earth Mother Heart. Benefit for S.F. General Hospital Foundation.