The Nonprofit Marketing Blog

Major Gifts Fundraising 101: It’s Not About Us. It’s About Them! Part 2

Step 3: The How

To a donor, giving is more than just writing a check. It’s about becoming part of a solution. In my last post, I talked about the “why” (it gives donors a “warm glow”) and the “what” (donors measure how much change their gift can actually effect) of building major donor relationships. I’d venture to say this is a pretty consistent decision-making process across all kinds of donors, from the $25 annual donors to the six- and seven-figure philanthropists.

How do you tie all these ideas about impact, effectiveness, and donor intention into your fundraising? Let me brutally honest. Donors don’t actually care about your needs as an organization. They care about the community you serve, the issue you address, the results you can achieve. They see you as the vehicle through which they can feel empowered to solve a problem. So before you present your fundraising pitch to major individual and institutional donors, get to know them better—and I don’t mean the facts and figures of their lives (income level, number of residences, family members, job, education, etc.) that you can learn from good research. I mean what drives them. Ask them questions like:

  1. What do you want to accomplish with your giving? What are the top three charities/issues that you support?
  2. What’s important to you when choosing an organization to invest in?
  3. What do you look for when measuring the effectiveness of an organization?
  4. What was the best gift you’ve ever made? What was the worst gift? Why?
  5. What was it about our organization or cause that interested you in our work?
  6. Who else is involved in your philanthropic decisions? (It’s especially important to know if a spouse or other family member has a say.)

These questions apply to individuals, corporations, and foundations since each has some strategy behind their giving choices. For individuals, it will be joy and a sense of accomplishment. For institutional donors, it will be good stewardship of their key stakeholders’ (investors, employees, executives) resources. And then, guess what? Your job becomes easier because you have a baseline from which you can start building a dialogue around shared values. You know where your organization’s vision overlaps with your donor’s philanthropic goals.

Now, when you present funding opportunities, lead with the endgame. What do I mean by this? Whether you’re asking for a restricted or unrestricted gift, how will that investment by that donor help you deliver more and/or better services to your community or expand your reach? It’s a subtle difference, but it keeps everyone’s sights on those you serve and elevates your and the donor’s vision to a broader sense of impact that you are working toward together.

Here’s one other thought I’d like to share: Sometimes successful solicitations come out of unscripted and completely unplanned conversations. As you build relationships with your major donors and prospects, you will likely inspire their curiosity in the process. They may ask where your organization wants to go in the long term or what challenges you face that you can’t overcome. Do you have big, bold ideas? It’s a good idea to do a “blue sky” exercise a couple times a year. Ask yourselves, “If money wasn’t an issue, how would our organization look? What programs would we do differently? More of? Instead of? How much more impact could we make?” Keep these ideas in your back pocket for exactly those moments when your major gifts prospects and donors ask.

Finally, while the focus of this and my previous post has been on major gifts fundraising, I’d be remiss if I didn’t put all of this in the context of creating a conversation with your major gifts donors of tomorrow. You won’t necessarily have the same one-on-one discussions as you would with a major gifts portfolio, but you can weave this same philosophy into your donor communications and gauge your donors’ interests on a broader scale.

Start by polling all of your volunteers who are not major donors. Why do they give their time, talent, and treasure to you? You might consider emailing an annual survey to all of your past supporters (maybe the past two to three years) that asks questions about donor support generally, of your organization, and their likes and dislikes in communication styles, as a few examples.

As you think about donor engagement strategies, perhaps you’ll segment a group of longtime donors for personal survey calls by staff, board members, or other volunteers. It’s also great to feature donors in your communications (annual report, newsletter, e-blast, etc.), profiling their giving and sharing why supporting your organization is important to them. Who knows? You may just inspire the next major donor you didn’t even know was supporting you.

If we stop leading every conversation with our organizational needs and start being more curious about our donors’ stories and philanthropic dreams, just think of the aspirational conversations you can start to have!


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About This Blog

Lisa Bonanno
Vice President of Digital Marketing

We’re here to help you win hearts and minds—and donations.

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