Major Donor Love

Dollar-Tree-300x213When I talk to people who are new to the profession, they often want to know the same thing. “I work in a small shop,” they say. “Which activities will give me the most bang for my buck, no pun intended?” I am paraphrasing, but this discussion is definitely the #1 topic that I run across. And my answer is always the same: court your major donors.

When I first started, I wouldn’t have believed it were true. I wanted to get as many people excited about our cause as possible (which is important). I also wanted to create systems that were easy to maintain and monitor (also important). I wanted to design newsletters (keeping people informed is important) and hold (eek) special events (I won’t go there). I wanted to write grants (also helpful and important). But one thing I didn’t want to do was talk to major donors. I was afraid of them, didn’t feel that I had an rapport with them, and was scared to death of messing up, so I filled my time with other important—but not necessarily as important—activities.

The main thing that I’ve learned in my 7 years is that I only have a finite amount of time to accomplish things. That time decreases slightly if I don’t want to give my whole life for my job. It also decreases if I have to factor in eating and sleeping, not to mention time for the other important things in my life outside of work. Even if I assume a 9-hour day, 5 days per week (I know, yeah right, but hear me out), my time is relatively limited.

Spending my finite time on small victories made me feel good, but wasn’t the best way for me to help reach my organization’s goals. If I broke my actual fundraising down by hours spent per dollars raised, major donor cultivation would give me the best return on my investment, hands down.

Major gifts are the most efficient way that I know of to raise funds, and major donors are not that different than you and me. If you are passionate about your organization, and they agree to meet with you, you’ve already got a foot in the door. Give them the information that they need to help you. I’m not saying kiss them on the first date (i.e. ask them for a major gift on the first visit), but see them as a human who may want to help if you can touch their heart. Tell them your stories. Ask them their advice. Learn how your organization has made a difference their life, or how it could with their help. I have met very few people in the course of my job who don’t want to help make the world a better place. Certainly some more than others, but it is definitely more the rule than the exception.

I loved an idea that I saw in the Asking Matters newsletter a few weeks back. It suggested that you take one day a week (ideally the same day) to focus exclusively on your major donors. Make phone calls, handwrite some notes, have lunch or send them a newspaper clipping that you know they would enjoy. Let them know what you’ve been up to. I think this is a great idea. Your major gifts fundraising success can only benefit from taking the time to cultivate your top-level donors. The great part is, you’ll still have time to do the other things that make for a well-rounded development program, and give yourself a little wiggle room to boot.

How do you make time for your major donors? What are some of your most successful strategies? What are some of your least successful?

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Posted on April 5, 2013, in Developing Relationships, Donor Relations, Donors, Funding Opportunities, Gratitude and Recognition, Major Gifts, Philanthropy, Prospect Research and tagged , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink. Leave a comment.

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