In private schools, there are scores of wealthy parents who love your school but have never invested any more than tuition.  How do you move them from entry-level givers to long-term, committed major donors?  Is there a secret?

It is not a secret and it is easier than you think.  Eight ways to win friends, influence people and create major donors for your school.

  1. Care for them as a real person–Nobody in life wants to be pursued in a shallow, self-centered manner. Whether the pursuit is over money, work title, sports ability, connections, or even appearance, people desire to be loved. Individuals from all backgrounds and socio-economic status, want to be cared for authentically and respected.  As a school leader, do you really care about your parents as people?  Do you care for individuals with concerns, fears, anxieties, hopes, and dreams?  Before you ask your parents for money or anything beyond the basic tuition, seek to become their friend without strings attached.  Learn who they are and build a relationship.
  2. Be genuine and authentic—Wealthy donors want to know your story and whether you are worthy of their trust. Share your genuine life story and show you have nothing to hide. When they become invested in you, they will begin to see you as a friend. A friendship has been established and a foundation for trust building has been laid.
  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 or mementos from their travel?  What things do they keep close to them? If you have access to discover what organizations they support, see if there is a common denominator. Taking the time to learn their personal affinities and passions will mean a great deal to them.
  4. Create unique recognition items—as you learn the major donor, understand how they like to be recognized. Some people want to remain completely anonymous but 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 give recognition and realize everyone is unique  in how they like to be thanked. Do not forget, everybody likes to be thanked in some way.
  5. 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 see a direct line from their major gift to the scholarship, building, or program they funded. Make it clear and be proactive in providing details. Allow them to celebrate the victories and be a part of the life cycle of their major gift.
  6. 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? Create unique engagement points (remember learning their interests) through volunteer activities. Allow them to experience the priceless expressions and the smiling faces of students for themselves.
  7. Provide them one point of contact—Make it as easy as possible to engage in your school.  Let them know you can be the one point of contact they need to resolve any issues or concerns they may have. Give them your personal cell phone, always promptly return their emails, and immediately hand write thank you notes for every contact with them.
  8. Move them along in their giving to create WIN/WIN’s for all involved—many potential major donors may be giving a small amount but once you learn their interests, you can create a win/win giving opportunities. These win/win fundraising opportunities can meet their affinity, create unique recognition, brand and market their business in the appropriate light, and provide a broad opportunity for networking.

When it all comes down to it, people give to people. Major donors want to be cared for as individuals and desire to have someone they can trust in the organization. Take a long view in your relationship building with major donors. Focus on cultivating a genuine and authentic personal relationship. Focus on your parents as people and not just individuals with dollar signs in front of them. You will be glad you did and you will have gained a friend out of it!