How to Chat It Up With Major Donors

If you are like most non-profits, you define a major donor by the size of the gift to your organization.  Some organizations set the major donor threshold at $1,000 or more, for larger organizations that threshold may be set at $10,000 or more.  Though in today’s world of donor-centered fundraising or constituent relationship management, shouldn’t we define a major donor based on different criteria?  In the book entitled “Developing Major Gifts” by Laura Fredricks, the author defines a major gift as “a well-thought out personal decision”.  In that case, isn’t a major donor anyone that makes a personal stretch gift after some serious consideration?

Let’s say I normally donate $100 a year to several different organizations and I decide to make a personal stretch gift of $1,000 to two organizations.  I will probably be treated differently by those two organizations depending on their criteria for “size” of a major gift.   But, shouldn’t both organizations notice that I increased my yearly giving by 900% and therefore reach out to me with a personal touch?   With thousands of donors (or hundreds of thousand of donors), the question then becomes how on earth can you possibly keep track of when a donor makes a significant increase in giving?  The solution should be your CRM solution, like Common Ground, that can develop workflows to manage changes in data. Establish a workflow or business rule that indicates anyone who makes a 50% increase in their annual giving, your major donor reps. are notified with an email and prompted to call that donor to say thank you.  Workflows can be established for different percent increases so that a 50% increase triggers a call from a major donor rep. but a 100% increase triggers a call directly from the CEO.

How does your organization classify a major donor?  If it is on the size of a gift, how was that dollar amount established?  Is it time to rethink how you identify a major donor?

Now that you have identified who your major donors are, let’s discuss how to build a relationship with them.  I’m the first to tell you to get one the phone and talk to your donors.  But, my clients often ask for recommendations on what to say to a major donor when he/she has not made a gift in the past 12 months or how to start to build a relationship if one does not exist.

I recommend the following tips when calling your major donors:

1) Most importantly, say “thank you”.  Be sincere and make the donor feel appreciated.  Thank the donor for their years of giving.  State specifically how many years the donor has been supporting your organization.

2) Mention that they are one of your most valued partners and a brief statement on what their gifts have allowed you to do.

3) Mention any upcoming events in their area in the near future and to keep an eye out for the invitation.

4) If the donor is lapsed, or is in risk of lapsing (hasn’t made a gift in 10 months) then state that you look forward to the privilege of hearing from them again and their continued support at this time will be greatly appreciated.

5) To engage the donor, ask him/her for their input on a new project, your new website that just launched, etc.  Remember, they are your most valuable supporters; their input will help you maintain their level of support and engage others like them.

6) Be sure to provide the donor with your direct phone number and email address.  Donors like to have a personal connection with the organization and know that there is someone they can call if they ever have any questions.

7) If the donor has time and indicates an interest to chat, engage him/her in a conversation.  Be sure to at least ask this one important question: “Why do you give to our organization?”
Other questions that you can ask your donors:
a.  Is there a particular program or aspect of the organization that interests you the most?
b.  Have you ever been to any of our events/facility?
c.  Do you like receiving our mail?
d.  Is there anything you would like to hear more about?
e . Do you have any questions about our mission or our work?

8) Listen to the donor.  Take notes on what you learn about the donor and be sure to enter those notes into your donor database system.  This information is useful for further cultivation of the donor.

9) Be prepared to respond to the donor’s signals that he/she is interested in making a large gift right now.  Signals include statements like:
“I would like to do more for your organization.”
“Is there anything I can do to offer more support?”
“I would like to make a contribution, how much do you need?”

10) Lastly, don’t wait until a gift arrives on your desk before you call your major donors.  Start the conversation now!