I have learned a lot about advancement over my 15 years in fundraising/nonprofit management. I have also observed the interests of my parents who have been major donors in the past. I have spent a great deal of time cultivating major donors with much success (multi-million dollar home donated, $300,000 given toward a building, etc.) in connecting people with their passion in the nonprofit organizations I have led. What have I learned?
1) Care for them as a real person–Nobody in life wants to only be pursued for one thing about them whether it is money, their title, their sports ability, their connections, or even their looks. People from all backgrounds and socioeconomic status, want to be cared for authentically and respected for who they really are behind the mask.
2) Be genuine and authentic—I have learned wealthy donors want to know your story and whether you are a person they can trust. Share your life story warts and all. Show you have nothing to hide and you are an honest broker. They become invested in your life and who you are. Begin to see you as their friend. When sharing the need for your organization, don’t undersell the amount of money is expected and what is needed. Have nothing to hide in you as a person and nothing to hide as an organization.
3) Learn their interests—if you get to meet with a major donor in their office or home, look around and see what they have on display. Do they have a lot of family pictures out? Is there western art on display? Do they have favorite sports team memorabilia? Do they love horses? Do they have pictures of them traveling? What things do they keep close to them? If you have access to see what organizations they give to, research it and see if there is a common denominator. One major donor I worked with loved indefensible animals and donated a large amount of money to animal rescues. He loved to talk about his animals. It meant a lot to him I knew about it.
4) Create unique recognition items for them—as you learn the major donor, understand how they like to be recognized. Some people want to remain completely anonymous but they would be incredibly touched by thank you letters and pictures from children. Others would value having their name on a building to leave a lasting legacy. While others would like trumpets played and major newspapers praising their name for their major gift. Be sensitive in how you recognize them and realize everyone is unique and different in how they like to be thanked. But keep in mind EVERYBODY likes being thanked in some way.
5) Be bold enough to say NO, a project is not a fit–As hard as it may be, there are times you need to tell a potential donor your current project is not a fit. As you have built a relationship with them, you realize this project does not meet their personal mission. The focus is long term and you are seeking to build a foundation of trust, openness, and finding the best fit for their charity dollars.
6) Show exactly where their money is going—Millionaires don’t become millionaires by wasting their money. The same goes for their charity donations. They want to make sure there is a clear Return on Investment to their donation and it is not being wasted on administrative costs. They want to be able to see a direct line from their major gift to the scholarship, building, or program they funded. Is the money going to the children, students, animals they want helped? Make it clear and be proactive in providing detailed documentation of where their major gift has gone.
7) Create engagement points in their investment—where can the major donor get their hands “dirty” in the project or see first-hand a student enjoying the building they donated for the university? Create unique engagement points (remember learning their interests) or volunteer activities where major donors can participate in what they are giving their major funds and see the smiling faces for themselves.
8) Provide them one point of contact—as you cultivate a major donor and seek to build trust and an authentic connection, let them know you can be the one point of contact they need to resolve any issues or concerns they may have. Of course they are welcome to call anybody else on staff including your boss, but make sure they know you are always available to assist them. They have your personal cell phone, you always promptly return their emails, and immediately hand write thank you notes for every contact with them. Make it as easy as possible for them to engage in your organization.
9) Move them along in their giving to create WIN/WIN’s for all involved—one potential major donor was giving a small amount but as I learned about his interests, his company could gain to be a part of one of our golf tournaments. Chair of the golf tournament was in the same industry as he is and he was willing to pay top dollar (he went from giving $100 to $15,000) to support this chair’s golf tournament and to win favor with him. At the end of the day, EVERYBODY won and it was a great victory for our organization.
When it all comes down to it, people give to people. Major donors want to be cared for as individuals and they want to have someone they can trust in the organization who knows them. Take a long view in your relationship building with major donors. Focus on building genuine and authentic personal relationships with them as people and not just individuals with dollar signs in front of them. You will be glad you did.