Chronicle of Philanthropy recently reported that big gifts from major donors are on the decline. Their analysis of recent studies confirms giving patterns of wealthy donors today mirror those of the Great Depression. It’s likely this means you may have to delay or scale back expectations for major campaigns. But more than anything, it means now is the time to engage with your major donors in the most meaningful ways possible.
Here are 13 ways to engage major donors and deepen your relationships for future fundraising success.
1. Invite donors to participate in your mission. There is no better way to create engagement than giving your major donors the opportunity to experience in person the life changing work their gifts make possible. Take them overseas to build a well or a school. Bring them to a community hit by natural disaster and let them help you pass out food, water, etc. Ask them to come read to the kids in your after school program or to the siblings of children hospitalized at your medical facility. There is no substitute for getting their hands dirty right beside your staff and the people you serve.
2. Spend time with them one-on-one. If you want to build deep, meaningful relationships with donors, this is by far the best way. No amount of e-mail communication, Facebook likes or Twitter posts can replace the authenticity and closeness of personal, face-to-face relationships.
3. Host small group events. Big events are great, but engaging major donors through small, intimate events is a wonderful way to build community amongst your most committed supporters. Successful people like to be around other successful people, so chances are your best donors will be excited to connect with others who support your cause at similar levels. You can ask a donor to host an event like this, or host it at your Executive Director or Board Chair’s home. From time to time, you can also use these small events as easy ways for your donors to introduce new friends to your organization.
4. Ask them for feedback on a program they support or on your future plans. Everyone likes to have their opinion sought. This is especially true of major donors that are providing much of the funding for your most critical projects and programs.
5. Create special pre and post-event gatherings that are by special invitation only. This is something I learned from my time as a political fundraiser. A great way to engage major donors and make them feel special is by providing exclusive opportunities. Giving them opportunities to engage with your Executive Director, Board of Directors, and other high power supporters makes them feel special and appreciated. Exclusivity is something many of these people are used to in their business and personal lives already, so this will feel like a natural extension of the other parts of their lives, and they’ll appreciate that you know this is important to them.
6. Invite them to meet with your board members and senior executives. Major donors expect a certain level of access. Making sure they have clear lines of communication with your senior leaders and important volunteers will go a long way. Make this access even more exclusive by inviting donors for one-on-one breakfasts, lunches or dinners, behind-the-scenes tours and briefings with key leaders.
7. Create a special Executive Director’s monthly communication just for major donors. Offer this via e-mail, via FAX (yes, some donors still have FAX machines), or via postal mail. Be clear that this is an exclusive monthly message that is only shared with the organization’s closest supporters. Make it feel like it has come directly from your Executive Director or President, and not something created out of the Marketing department.
8. Establish a Major Donor club with multiple levels of recognition. Create multiple donation levels with various perks and benefits at each level. Use this as a means to offer exclusive opportunities to your most loyal donors. It will also give you the opportunity to upgrade and retain more donors by providing additional incentives for them to give.
9. Include a donor feature in your newsletter. People love to talk about themselves. Use that to your advantage. Honor your most committed donors by asking them to tell you and everyone else that supports you exactly why they give. Highlight the things that are important to them like their family, their career history, etc. Not only will this make your donor feel celebrated and loved, it will motivate other donors to step up and increase their giving as well.
10. Place an article of appreciation in a trade publication relevant to their business. If your donor is a business executive, entrepreneur or socialite, they’ll appreciate you recognizing them in front of their most important peers. You can easily accomplish this by purchasing space in the local business journal, or a specific trade publication related to their individual interest. It’s also a great way to highlight your cause to other potential donors.
11. Create a special secure access portion of your website just for major donors. This is a great way to share behind-the-scenes video updates, impact reports, survey key donors and provide your donors with 24/7 access to all the information they need to know their gifts are being used efficiently and effectively.
12. Create personalized video messages from the field. You probably can’t do this for your entire donor base, but imagine how great your donors will feel when your CEO or Board Chair sends them a personal video greeting and message of thanks from the site of one of your projects. If you work with inner city youth, film a thank you message on the street in the community you serve. Bring some of the children and parents together with you to say a special thank you. If you work in international relief, film your message from a village you’re working in. Film in your clinic, your school, etc. If you’re in a relevant place and your message is appreciative and authentic, donors will love it. The key here is personalization. Don’t record a generic message that can be sent to all donors. Record messages to specific donors, calling them by name.
13. Ask for another gift. That’s right. Ask again. It’s human nature to want to be needed. Major donors are no different. In fact, they love to know that you need them and want their support. Contrary to how you might feel, asking for their support isn’t an intrusion. It isn’t begging. It is an inherent aspect of the relationship you have with them. They know it, and they appreciate when you ask — even if they can’t say yes every time, they appreciate your request.
What have you found to be the most effective for you?
Andrew Olsen, CFRE, is an award-winning fundraiser whose work on behalf of some of the nation’s leading organizations has generated more than $60 million to help change lives, influence public policy and shape the nation’s political landscape. Check out his blog, Fundraising Fundamentals.