By donorsearch

[Guest Post] Engaging Your Major Gifts Officer

This blog focuses on the world of prospect research and various related fundraising topics. To diversify our subject matter, we like to feature the work of our friends and colleagues in the community. Join me in welcoming Casey Woodard of Casey Woodard Consulting. Please enjoy this post that covers six steps you can take to engage your major gifts officer.  And when you’re done reading this, don’t forget to check out our Major Gift Officer Survival Guide

Engaging Your Major Gifts Officer: 6 Steps to Optimized Performance

To sustain your agency’s programs long term, you need to go after major gifts, which typically account for 40% of funding. The Major Gifts Officer (MGO) directs this goal by raising the lion’s share of gift income and cultivating donors for continuous, decades-long giving. This means having a strong MGO who is committed to your mission and has good reasons to stay with your agency. A high-performing MGO is a major asset, but it takes an average of 24 months for him to reach his stride in a new organization. Most MGOs also stay only 16 months on the job, putting many agencies in a revolving talent deficit for this mission-critical role. Repeat MGO turnover can cost millions of dollars in replacement fees and lost opportunity.  For example, the average health care foundation spends $66,500 to find a new MGO and forgoes $2.7 million in major gifts during MGO replacement and ramp-up. That’s a loss of almost $2.8 million for failure to retain a high-performing MGO. MGOs rarely jump ship because of salary. Rather, they seek a new company whose supervisors better understand what it takes to do the major gifts job, and where energizing programs, tools, and support are in place to motivate a good MGO to become even greater. Grooming and retaining a top MGO takes total engagement — a six-step, systematic approach that the best philanthropic managers follow to motivate and retain their direct reports. If you commit to these steps, you can help your MGO stay keen to your agency and quickly rank among the top 75% fundraisers in the country.

1. Plan for long-term career growth, from Day 1

Optimizing talent is a journey not an event, and smart managers match career planning personality. The best MGOs are self starting, go-getter types who love a mission, a challenge, a lot of variety, and an opportunity to make a difference in something important. Set an evolutionary path for your MGO for her first two weeks, the next six months, 24 months in, and so on. Review the plan and her progress regularly and adjust as her interests and skills grow. If your MGO has been onboard awhile, first fill in any gaps from her first months on the job, then move forward with a career path from there.
  • Outcomes: Encourages long-term MGO commitment; keeps her continuously engaged; supports her way of interacting with her work.

2. Focus on the right tasks, with measurable goals

Top-notch managers of top-notch MGOs know that success is about relationships and trust. They set clear, specific expectations that stretch the MGO just enough, and they have consistent evaluation standards and methods to reward the stretch. This means forming measurable daily, weekly, monthly, and yearly objectives that create accountability and feed off of your MGO’s natural drive to excel. “Bring in more money” isn’t measurable or motivating. “Add fifty new $25,000 donors by end of Q4” and “Always have one third of your portfolio ready to be asked for a gift, one-third being stewarded for a future gift, and one-third being thanked for a recent gift” are concrete and actionable. Have follow-through that dials in on specific metrics questions. Don’t just ask, “How are things going?” Delve instead: “Did you make 25 portfolio prospect contacts a week? Did you convert at least half of them for future appointments? Is 10% of your portfolio still at the A level?” If your answer to these questions is “I don’t know,” you’re not engaging enough with your MGO’s goals, process, and success.
  • Outcomes: Builds trust in your ability to support your MGO; helps you understand the activities and responsibilities; motivates him toward ever-higher standards.

3. Provide meaningful, exciting options for the MGO to present to donors

Unless your MGO is emotionally connected to her goals, she will leave after six months. Your job is to create meaningful value propositions that engage her and your donors, making it easy for them to “connect the dots” between your program’s need and the donor’s ability to support it.  Give the MGO the best, most compelling projects, with some degree of urgency and momentum for fundraising. Develop a menu of projects that has something for every kind major gift donor. Demonstrate how each program connects to your mission and how the money will be spent, so donors can seize its value: “If I give $100 to this program, I’m helping this group provide free exams to 25 at-risk, low-income women.” MGOs are not magicians or miracle workers — they need the best programs you can provide to draw in the biggest funders.
  • Outcomes: Improves MGO longevity and personal buy-in; establishes vital system support so she can pitch your cause with concrete data and value-add.

4. Be available to your MGO at “hot points” of the prospect cycle

The top performer is always the one who knows his boss “has his back.” You can do that for your MGO by leaving (and telling your MGO about) five or six openings on your calendar a month that he can automatically use to plug you into a meeting with a potential donor at a moment’s notice. Sometimes all that’s needed to swing a top prospect over is a concerted approach to the value proposition.
  • Outcomes: Reinforces mutual trust and alignment; displays your organization’s high level of commitment to donors.

5. Let the MGO work the way she thinks is best

Micro-managing destroys high performance: your task is to provide guidelines and target outcomes, not instructions. Let your MGO spend the budget you set, and don’t nickel and dime, on a meals and entertainment budget, on a path to achieve a $500,000 gift. Major gifts are a marathon, not a sprint.  Payback is not immediate, and at times the expense is not commensurate with income as your MGO builds her major gifts pipeline. The long-term returns, however, can be tremendous once the “turbo” kicks in. Give your MGO the budget, the tools, and the freedom to operate within the framework of what she must do.
  • Outcomes: Motivates your MGO to do her job well; establishes mutual trust (rather than antagonism); gives her the time and resources to land the best prospects and largest gifts.

6. Support the Major Gifts Office with a “core of champions”

Top-ranked MGOs spend nearly 80% of their time leveraging the time and energy of core program champions on behalf major gifts. Core champions can be:
  • An entire board of directors.
  • An individual board member.
  • Your company president.
  • A successful client.
  • An advocate.
  • A volunteer.
  • Anyone else closely involved in your program.
Champions can support your MGO by accompanying him on a donor call, contacting donors, providing a referral for the MGO, writing letters to prospects, and so on.
  • Outcomes: Motivates your MGO through unanimous excitement for his plans; engages key players in major gifts; shows donors your organization’s depth and breadth of commitment.

Pulling it all together

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By chris

[Guest Post] Using Research to Jumpstart your Major Gift Program

This blog focuses on the world of prospect research and various related fundraising topics. To diversify our subject matter, we like to feature the work of our friends and colleagues in the community. With that said, join me in welcoming Chad Peddicord, the Executive Vice President at Averill Fundraising Solutions. Please enjoy his post on research and major gift programs.

Using Research to Jumpstart your Major Gift Program

It’s no secret that a successful, cost-effective fundraising program is built on a foundation of major gifts.  But what are the elements of an effective major gift program?  At its core, the keys to major gift success are the right people, asking the best prospects for the right amount, for the right project, at the appropriate time, often enough to generate sufficient activity that results in gifts to meet the identified needs.  But if someone gave me that as an answer, I would ask for some specific action steps.  Following are seven results-proven strategies for using research to jumpstart your major gift program:

1. Prioritize donors in the database

The first step for an efficient major gift program is segmenting and prioritizing the donors in the database. Previous major gift donors are obvious – keep them on the priority list.  But do a little digging and look for donors that have been consistent over the past 5 years and have increased their giving.  This is a signal they believe in what you are doing and might have more capacity.  Is there an individual in the database that has made at least one gift annually during the past 5 years and started at $50 and is now at $500?  Or maybe their first gift was $500 and now they give $2,500 annually?  That’s a clue, and they should be marked as a potential major gift prospect because of their increasing affinity.

2. Find the capacity

Affinity alone is not enough to prioritize efficiently. Discovering which donors or prospects have the capacity for a major gift is important.  The simplest and most effective way to determine that is through an electronic screening.  If done right, the screening will create more work, but it will also narrow the field of donors and prospects that you have to include to create an efficient major gift portfolio.  Focus on philanthropic behavior and political giving – data shows these two indicators most accurately reveal major gift capacity and willingness.

3. Do the research and develop a strategy

Once donors and prospects with major gift capacity have been identified through screening, the real work begins. The screening helps to narrow the field, but now research is required to confirm that the screening information matches the person in your database. (If you have very clean data and several components of personal information on each individual prior to the screening – you will save a tremendous amount of time in research and get much better results from the screening.)  With more information from research, narrow the major gift pool further and begin to develop individual cultivation and solicitation strategies for each prospect that can then be implemented.  The strategy step is where the right people, the right project, the right ask amount, and the appropriate request timing need to be discussed.

4. Don’t work in a vacuum – talk to people

The real research begins as you have conversations with individuals about exciting projects. Invite potential donors for a tour, or talk to them about the strategic plan, or get their advice on a new idea.  This opens the door for discussions on how to accomplish the important mission at hand and the gifts required for success.  Nothing can replace the “shoe leather” research and the most helpful information always comes from asking questions and dialogue.  These personal conversations then inform the strategy moving forward and determine how to ask for a major gift.

5. Add prospects to the list

In addition to your current donors and prospects, take this opportunity to add new prospects to the list. There is a plethora of ways to find individuals that might be prospects for your organization and this process could be its own blog post.  But an easy way is to use a database that catalogues charitable gifts to not-for-profits and will allow a search to find individuals with philanthropic interest and demonstrated giving to “relevant” organizations to your mission.

6. Assign the donors and prospects

Now that the major gift prospect pipeline is narrowed, each must be assigned to “someone” to manage the relationship. I say “someone” because depending on the size of your professional fundraising staff – “someone” could mean many things.  For example, with a small staff, major gift prospects might be assigned to board members or volunteers.  And while the professional fundraiser will play a role in the process, the board member might be doing all of the outreach to the prospect and building the relationship.  The data is clear, in order to successfully cultivate and solicit a major gift – the prospect has to be managed by someone.

7. Ask for the gift

The last piece to an effective major gift program is as simple as asking for the gift. If all the above steps have been accomplished, there is nothing left but to ask.  Capitalizing on all of the work done to prepare for soliciting major gifts requires creating some activity benchmarks that drive the program.  The benchmarks are different for every organization, but they always involve personal visits and requests.  Track the activity against your goals and the major gifts will follow. For more information, read our other resources on major gifts

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By chris

5 Ways to Use Mobile Fundraising Solutions For Your Next Event

Spring is around the corner, which means now is the time for nonprofits to start planning their spring events! From run/walks and luncheons to golf tournaments and galas, there’s no doubt that events of every kind are a great way to fundraise for your cause. However, many nonprofits are missing out on a key solution that can help make their event more successful than ever: mobile fundraising. Incorporating mobile giving has been shown to increase donations by 35% and is easier to integrate into your fundraising event planning than you might think. Mobile giving provides a true, end-to-end solution for event fundraising that can help reduce admin time for your organization while boosting donations and engaging supporters. From invites to donation thank-yous, here are 5 ways you can use mobile fundraising solutions for your next event:
  1. Send invitation and reminders with text messaging
  2. Allow supporters to register for events and purchase tickets from their smartphones
  3. Promote live pledging with an on-screen fundraising thermometer and text-to-donate keywords
  4. Collect out-of-town donations
  5. Follow up with donors after the event
Are you ready to amp up your fundraising events with mobile giving? Let’s get started!

1. Send invitations and reminders with text messaging

Did you know that text messages have a 98% open rate in the first 3 minutes? Since texts are so regularly read, they are the easiest (and most effective!) way to reach out to your network of supporters. If your organization has a list of phone numbers, you can easily upload them to your mobile giving software and start sending supporters updates and alerts. Additionally, you can expand your organization’s contact list by conducting prospect research to find even more potential donors. Text messages are the perfect medium to keep donors in the know about: 
  • Upcoming fundraisers
  • Ways to register for events
  • Send invites to guests
Using links to content and donation forms, videos of your organization in action, and messages that engage your supporters, you excite your donors and get them interested in attending your events. Tip: Searching for a text messaging software for nonprofits. Look for a tool that lets you not only communicate with donors but also accept contributions via text message.

2. Allow supporters to register for events and purchase tickets from their smartphones

There’s a common misconception that people don’t respond to event invites on mobile devices. The truth is nearly 20% of event registrations come from mobile devices, meaning your registration form needs to be mobile responsive and accessible from any device or you’ll be missing out on potential RSVPs. When setting up an event registration page, keep in mind that donors on all devices should be able to easily fill out your forms and purchase tickets. Here are a few things to consider:
  • Limit your registration forms to one page. A single page form not only reduces your donor abandonment rate but also requires less scrolling for mobile users.
  • Avoid large visuals. While having stunning visuals can look great when your forms are viewed on a desktop, they can cause a mobile user a lot of frustration.
  • Capture only essential information. Filling out forms on a mobile device can be difficult and time-consuming, so you should only make donors enter information that is absolutely necessary.
Make purchasing tickets easy with mobile-friendly forms that use AutoFill on Android and iOs devices to process and fulfill ticket sales as they happen.

3. Promote live pledging with an on-screen fundraising thermometer and text-to-donate keywords

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By chris

5 Ways Prospect Research Can Help You With Donor Solicitation

Prospect research is a valuable tool that many nonprofits use to learn more about their donors, their prospects, and their giving patterns.
  • It helps fundraisers determine who to invite to a fundraising event.
  • It allows nonprofits to discover hidden connections between donors and potential major gift contributors.
  • It helps nonprofits fill in the blanks with their existing, and perhaps incomplete, donor data.
But one of the main ways that prospect research serves nonprofits is with donor solicitation. Whether you’re asking for donations via email, on the phone, or in person, prospect research can help give you the edge when making those appeals.

Here are five ways prospect research can help with donor solicitation.

  1. Fill in the blanks.
  2. Segment your asks.
  3. Know how much to ask.
  4. Determine other giving opportunities.
  5. Find major gift donors and planned giving donors.

1. Fill in the blanks

It’s going to be tricky to ask for a donation if you don’t have a prospect’s phone number, email address, or home address. =&1=& Let’s say that Donna Donor submitted her email address at your last gala as part of a raffle that night. But an email appeal doesn’t seem to be the best way to ask Donna to give to your organization. She might have the potential to be a major gift donor and would need an in-person meeting if you really want to make an impression. =&2=& Besides, it’s a good idea to have accurate donor data anyway. When you send out invites to fundraisers, volunteer opportunities, or other events, you’ll want to make sure that you’re sending out those invitations to the right addresses. =&3=&
  • Address a donor by their correct name.
  • Have the right address on the envelope.
  • Include relevant information that is appropriate for that particular donor (i.e., an acknowledgement of a previous donation)
=&4=&Use prospect research to fill in the blanks on your donor data when sending out those event invitations and when you go to make your donation appeals.

2. Segment your asks

Not every donor is going to respond in the same way to an email or a direct mail appeal.
  • Some people prefer the ease of donating online.
  • Others like giving over the phone.
  • Still others prefer more traditional methods, like sending checks by mail or giving in person.
=&5=& Once you’ve filled in the blanks on your donor data, you’re in a better position to segment your supporters into different groups depending on their giving preference. If you notice that some of your donors regularly respond to the email appeals you send out, continue sending them those email appeals. You might notice, on the other hand, that some donors have never responded to an email appeal but donate every year when you send out your annual appeal in the mail. You’ll know that you can take them off your email appeal list and make sure they receive the annual appeal and other campaign information in the mail. =&4=&Use prospect research to learn more about which communication channels donors prefer and segment your donation appeals accordingly.

3. Know how much to ask

Not every donor is going to give the same amount on a regular basis. Some may prefer donating $10 a month while others might be able to give $5,000 in one annual check. Knowing how much donors have given in the past to your organization, other organizations, and political campaigns can give you a pretty solid indication of how much to ask in your future appeals. And prospect research can give you all of that information! Donors are always going to have the final say when it comes to actually making a donation. But having information about their past giving patterns puts you in a great position to make suggested giving amounts that are appropriate. Additionally, knowing how much a supporter has given to your organization in the past allows you to thank them for that donation before making your appeal for another contribution. Being thankful is one of the most important facets of donor solicitation. Before asking for another donation, make sure that you’re saying thank you for those previous contributions! =&7=&

By chris

Mobile Fundraising Campaigns: The Basics

With mobile fundraising technology, your organization never has to worry about not knowing when to send a message.

Using the data collected during a text-to-give campaign, your nonprofit can learn everything it needs to know (well, maybe not every fundraising metric) about present and future donors, volunteers, and event attendees.

In this article, you’ll learn all about 6 things your nonprofit can learn about donors and 5 things donors can learn about you through a text-to-give campaign:

#1. Preferred Donation Channels

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By chris

[Guest Post] Maximize Your Donor Solicitation’s Response Rates

This blog focuses on the world of prospect research and various related fundraising topics. To diversify our subject matter, we like to feature the work of our friends and colleagues in the community. Join me in welcoming Marvin Dawson, Vice President of MMI Direct, for his thoughts on how to improve donor solicitation response rates. You’ve agonized over every word in the copy, spent hours working with your designer to make sure the layout is perfect, and tested multiple calls to action.  You’re finally ready to mail your incredible donor solicitation, right? Before you do, you should ask yourself one more question — have you used the same care to choose which potential donors to solicit as you have in designing the mail piece itself?  Many marketers aren’t aware that their list management decisions can have just as powerful an effect on results as choosing the best creative. There are three important questions you need to ask yourself to ensure you are mailing to the right recipients: 1. Is every address deliverable? Nothing is more wasteful than paying to mail something that is never going to arrive. The first step in improving your list’s deliverability is to run it through CASS Certification to standardize the address, append a 9-digit zip code and add a delivery point barcode.  With over 11% of all Americans moving in a typical year, the second thing you should do is to match your updated list against the National Change of Address (NCOA) database to make sure it contains the latest addresses.  Finally, since as many as 40% of Americans who move don’t bother to file a change of address notice with the USPS, you should also consider using the Proprietary Change of Address (PCOA) database to update your list with the correct addresses for this group. 2. Are there addresses you should exclude from the mailing? We almost universally recommend not mailing to jails or prisons, military bases, nursing homes, trailer parks, vacant lots, disaster areas, and addresses on acquisition lists that are also on the DMA Do Not Mail list.  Depending upon your organization’s target audience, records with no names or only company names may or may not be worthwhile for you to send, as might records going to unique zip codes like the Pentagon or a large university.  Finally, you may want to exclude mailing to records on an acquisition list that have been flagged as deceased (though you should test these names a few times first, as sometimes they continue to respond, presumably from a surviving spouse!). 3. Is more than one copy of a mailing going to a particular person and/or address? Optimizing your merge purge operations to eliminate duplicate mailings can be surprisingly complex, but often pays out in higher returns. Want to learn more about how to maximize the response rate to your donor solicitation?  Our free eBook, How to Use Data Hygiene to Maximize Your Direct Mail’s ROI, explains in simple terms what you need to know.  Download it here!   Marvin Dawson (, VP of MMI Direct, has been managing data hygiene and merge purge operations for a wide variety of companies for decades.  He eats, breathes and dreams about data, and would love to help your company improve the ROI of your direct mail!      

By chris

[Guest Post] Why You Should Pay More Attention to These Forgotten Donors

This blog focuses on the world of prospect research and various related fundraising topics. To diversify our subject matter, we like to feature the work of our friends and colleagues in the community. Join me in welcoming Mary Cahalane of Hands-On Fundraising and please enjoy her post on mid-level donors.

Why You Should Pay More Attention to These Forgotten Donors

They’re the stalwarts of your annual giving program. They’ve been giving for years. They’re obviously committed. So how well do you really know your mid-level donors? I can’t tell you how to define “mid-level”. Just like “major gift donor” it will depend on your organization’s size and donor base. But if you take a good look at your list, you’ll know who they are. Not your biggest donors – who are hopefully being engaged as major donors. Not your smaller donors – though your smallest donors may be very loyal. And I’m a huge fan of recognizing loyalty at any level. They’re the donors in the middle of your file. They might be new, or among your longest-giving donors. And you’re losing money if they’re not getting special attention. Jeff Schreifels of Veritus Group explains why in this post. He tells us that mid-level donors are very loyal. They make your direct response program strong (you’d need a lot of $25 gifts to make your goals, right?) And they may be your future major donors. Mid-level donors are definitely a hybrid. They’ll fall somewhere between the high-touch care of major donors and your direct response program. And that’s how you’ll need to treat them – a little of both.

How to find them.

Begin with your database. Find the mid-point and select a group of donors whose giving hovers near that. Start your mid-level program with these donors. But don’t stop there. Mid-level donors may be hiding among your smaller donors. Do a little sleuthing. Then look below your mid-point and create a special solicitation. Offer a great case (why should they give more?), a more personal touch (first class stamps, hand-written notes, an upgraded response device) and a higher ask. You may find people who were just waiting to be asked to give more!

How to keep them.

Offer them their own representative. Veritus recommends something I’d done years ago – offer these donors a personal representative at your organization. Designate someone on your staff to be their contact – to answer questions, to sort out problems, to listen. This is a win-win because you want these donors to be in touch! Upgrade their recognition.

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By chris

[Guest Post] How to Capture a Baby Boomer’s Attention

This blog focuses on the world of prospect research and various related fundraising topics. To diversify our subject matter, we like to feature the work of our friends and colleagues in the community. Join me in welcoming Karen Blanchard of Alumni Finder, and please enjoy this post on engaging Baby Boomers. While Baby Boomers may have been overtaken by Millennials as the largest segment of the U.S. population, don’t count them out when soliciting donations. Retirees are expected to donate $6.6 trillion cash and $1.4 trillion in volunteer services during the next 20 years, according to a report released recently by Age Wave in partnership with Merrill Lynch. As Baby Boomers like me begin retiring, we are expected to give at even higher rates. And that’s good news for nonprofits smart enough to capture the attention of such donors. Born between 1946 and 1965, Baby Boomers make up 76 million people in the U.S., according to the U.S. Census Bureau. This population surpasses every other age group in terms of charitable donations and is the dominant source of income for many nonprofits. Interestingly, Boomers are giving less money to religious and spiritual organizations compared to their parents’ generation, the report said. However, Boomers are still much more inclined to support religious groups than Millennials and Gen Xers. So what does your nonprofit need to know about Baby Boomers like me to be effective?
  1. Consider highlighting all the ways potential donors can connect with you including online and in-person. This group does their research online but then prefers in-person connections. Provide volunteer opportunities for this mature, experienced labor pool that has time and resources.
  2. Boomers like me are receptive to traditional and digital marketing that is genuine. Many people in this age group are looking for information and opportunities to connect with a meaningful charity.
  3. Avoid references to retirement and growing older as we don’t like to think about these things and prefer to sidestep that terminology.
  4. Many Boomers are still working and seek convenient ways to give. While the report says retired women are the most likely group among Baby Boomers to contribute both money and hours to charity, make sure you are providing an easy way for your potential donors to engage.
  5. Your nonprofit organization should be transparent and offer information on how donations benefit your charity. Baby Boomers more than any other population segment make an effort to find out how nonprofits use their money before they decide to donate.

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By donorsearch

[Guest Post] Retaining Major Gift Donors

This blog focuses on the world of prospect research and various related fundraising topics. To diversify our subject matter, we like to feature the work of our friends and colleagues in the community. Join me in welcoming Vicki Shelton, Senior Director of BNY Mellon Wealth Management, Seattle, Washington and please enjoy this post on retaining major gift donors.


By Vicki Shelton, Senior Director, BNY Mellon Wealth Management, Seattle, Wa. In 2015, charitable giving increased for the fourth consecutive year, as reported in the 2015 Fundraising Effectiveness Project (FEP) Survey Report. The FEP, developed by the Association of Fundraising Professionals (AFP) and the Urban Institute, measures gains and losses in gift amounts, as well as in the number of donors among participating charitable organizations. Alarmingly, among the organizations surveyed, for every 100 new donors, 102 existing donors left the charity without making a gift. In fact, for every year since 2004, more donors left than gave new dollars to organizations suggesting that the emphasis of charities is on gaining new donors, rather than building relationships with major donors to encourage repeat giving. Most nonprofits are effective in raising new dollars from new donors; though it may not stem from outstanding fundraising efforts. Rather, economic conditions over recent years may have more to do with prompting donors to reach for their wallets. Looking at 2014 fundraising drivers, the financial markets experienced double-digit returns in that year, employment increased, and at the same time, energy prices fell. These movements improved consumer confidence, which more likely led to increased giving. However, as markets move and consumer sentiments fluctuate, nonprofits will need to deploy a more rigorous approach to fundraising – balancing efforts to win new donors with donor retention. While most boards and foundations dedicate time to developing relationships with major donors through meaningful connections, merely spending time with major donors is no longer enough. Savvy donors want to understand an organization’s strategic plans, with well-developed business objectives, for a clear view of a nonprofit’s goals. Reduced government funding and other traditional grant-making resources demand that organizations sharpen their focus on major-donor capacity for future growth. Nonprofits seeking new or repeat gifts from major donors will need to adopt a specific strategy and approach to donor interaction. Often, nonprofits use the same approach across their donor base – direct solicitation or a written request. One wealthy philanthropist recently explained: “Every time I attend a nonprofit event, I feel as if I have a dollar sign tattooed on my forehead. I am approached almost instantly by someone from the organization wanting me to make a large donation.” Most wealthy donors are put off by direct solicitations at events or outright through a phone call, and require a thoughtful and strategic approach for continued future gifts. Nonprofits are getting smarter about building relationships and strategic plans with major donors for continued gifts. However, many nonprofits say they are all vying for the same dollars as their competitors. Nonprofits that succeed in their fundraising efforts recognize what this level of donor expects.

To delve into this rigorous approach, this article is divided into four key sections:

  1. Attracting and Retaining Major Donors
  2. Research Highlights
  3. The Major Donor Experience
  4. Honor and Engage Your Donors

Attracting and Retaining Major Donors

There are four ways to better attract and retain major donors: 1. Share the big picture: From Atlas of Giving’s 2014 report, “most people like to support winning causes.” Board members and staff need to share with donors not only how the nonprofit makes the world a better place but the metrics to back up those claims. 2. Internal collaboration: A unified fundraising effort between the board and staff reduces duplication of effort and avoids confusing the donor about whom to contact at the organization. As a donor mentioned, “It is annoying to receive a direct mail letter while at the same time in my mailbox I am invited to purchase a table for an upcoming Gala. And then, I will get a call from a staffer asking for a gift. Can’t they coordinate their efforts, so I don’t feel harassed?” 3. Discuss special projects: Major donors have often built their wealth by being entrepreneurial in their careers. They want to hear about the overall strategic plans for the organization, but may relate well to special projects that resonate with them for a variety of reasons. Some may be pleased to be involved in a project reserved for a “small club” of other significant donors, such as major funders of a new university building or a specialized hospital wing. Others may desire acknowledgement through naming rights. 4. Collaborate with other donors and nonprofits with similar missions: Paul Lagasse writes in his article A New Perspective, “There is enough evidence out there showing that the old model of being able to focus on your own little corner of the world without understanding everything else that’s going on just doesn’t work anymore.” In recent years, grants given by the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation to community foundations were provided so each community foundation worked together with their region’s nonprofits on initiatives that crossed over many aspects of the local community. One community foundation in the Pacific Northwest focused on homelessness, addressing the impact on the community for stresses around education, safety, drug and alcohol abuse. Another community foundation worked on child trafficking, its impact on the community, and resources to children and families being affected. As organizations focus on “relationship equity” or making meaningful connections with major donors, a good place to start is to take the AFP Fundraising Fitness Test. Another resource is the Leaky Bucket assessment (, which measures nine key business practices that contribute to or detract from the effectiveness, efficiency, and productivity of fundraising efforts. Nonprofits should conduct a careful analysis of how their fundraisers focus on major gifts: That is, to determine how much effort is spent on “busy work” vs. identifying, cultivating, soliciting, and stewarding major donors. Linda Lysakowski’s article Spending Enough on Fundraising? notes that ‘face time’ with donors is paramount to receiving large gifts. By developing a relationship with a major donor there is evidence to suggest that when asked, 60% of those donors that are engaged in person will make a gift. It’s important to keep in mind that 95% of your gifts will come from 5% of your donors. As previously mentioned, major donors make gifts because they resonate with the mission, purpose and activities of the nonprofit organization. While it is true that major donors will typically make a gift if there is a recurring ‘ask’, subsequent gifts are rarely made if there is not a strategic plan around the gift that has been discussed over time with the donor.


Research Highlights

Without continued, coordinated connections with your major donors, the trend downward for repeated gifts will continue. The Science of Philanthropy Initiative (SPI) co-founder John List and the University of Chicago studied the giving pattern of donors for more than ten years

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By chris

[Guest Post] Cast a Wider Net in Your Prospect Identification

This blog focuses on the world of prospect research and various related fundraising topics. To diversify our subject matter, we like to feature the work of our friends and colleagues in the community. Join me in welcoming Jeff Stein and Allison Keech Sanka of Planned Giving Marketing and please enjoy their post on planned giving.

Cast a Wider Net in Your Prospect Identification

There are more big fish in your small pond than you may think (or than you’ve been led to believe).

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