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Six Steps for a Thriving Major Donor Program in 2021

Kristin Hammett

Kristin Hammett

January 29, 2021

I started my career in sales with a Fortune 50 company. I sold consumer goods to grocery and warehouse managers, working with top tier products in high demand. The grocers knew they needed what I was selling. It was really a matter of amount, discounts, marketing incentives, and product placement. I learned a lot.

After a career change to an at-home mom, I went back to work in ministry development. Essentially, it would be “spiritual sales”, or that is what I thought. I was wrong. Donor development is so much more than “spiritual sales”. It is connecting God’s resources with His work. It is finding people with a heart for the cause and asking them to invest in creating impact and solving problems. It becomes an invitation to join God at work.

It is not the same as strategically placing laundry detergent on an endcap display in a grocery store.

Unfortunately, with caseloads, revenue objectives, databases, and processes, it can feel that technically strategic. How do you stay fresh, intentional, and spiritually focused in the endeavor to grow support for your organization and expand the impact of your work?

Here are 6 steps for a thriving major donor program.

  1. Plan– As the year begins, evaluate your major donor pool. What is happening in their world? How has 2020 affected their lives and livelihoods? Who is engaged with you? This is not just a question of capacity; it is also history and current circumstances. You cannot walk with everyone on the list, so part of a major donor program is first identifying who should be on your list for active engagement. It is okay not to be regularly engaged with everyone. This does not mean the donor is less important; it may be a season you slightly shift the focus and priorities of support you provide.
  2. Consider– Who should be moved to your prospect list? This does not mean cold calls. Remember, this is not sales. Instead, take a look at mid-level donors, those with an upcoming liquidity or life-change event and those who are loyal donors but at a lower level. Are any of these donors suitable for a more intentional one-on-one engagement process? Would it be worthwhile to minister to them more relationally?
  3. Ask – It is simple and direct. You must ask donors to invest in the work. Please, ask. If you envision donors with the big picture and mission of your organization, make a case for support but stop before making the ask, you short-circuit the process. A failure to ask causes tension for the donor. It is like telling them about a big party you are throwing and then not inviting them. Invite them to participate in the work. Position this ask as an investment and a partnership in Kingdom work.
  1. Pray– Give God time to work. In Exodus 35, Moses asks the Israelites to give with a willing heart to the construction of the Tabernacle. The people dispersed, then “everyone whose heart stirred them” brought their offerings to the Lord. After you have asked donors to invest in the work happening through your organization, encourage them to ask God how much of His money He wants them to give to the work.
  2. Serve– Care for your donors well. When God has stirred in their hearts to invest, you now have the privilege of serving them. Develop an individual communication calendar to manage intentional points of contact. Be sure you are thanking them quickly, reporting impact, sharing stories, sending notes and texts, and calling them. Note what they care about most. Talk with them about that aspect of impact while also sharing overall outcomes.
  3. Enhance– Adding value to donor relationships may be particularly relevant in 2021. Gain expertise in charitable giving tools. Familiarize yourself with potential tax changes, charitable giving rules, donor advised funds, and asset giving. This knowledge adds value to your donor relationships as you educate them on tools to give more efficiently, especially with potential changes to tax and charitable giving laws.

Maybe the list shares some similarities to a set of sales guidelines after all. The biggest difference? The posture of your heart and reliance on God as your Provider. He has chosen to fund His work through the resources He entrusted to His people.

Challenge donors to invest in the work and serve them well when they do.

Development is more than “spiritual sales”. It is an invitation to join God at work.

About Kristin Hammett

Kristin Hammett

As the Director of Nonprofit Success at The Signatry, Kristin Hammett works to train, consult, and equip nonprofits with fundraising solutions to connect God’s resources with His work

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