What did you find the last time you googled “major donors”? I bet you found articles like “How to Find Major Donors” or “How to Identify Major Donors” or “5 Tips to Cultivating Major Donors.” The list goes on endlessly.
Do you know what’s missing in most of these articles? Major donors are people.
I had the honor of having a heart-to-heart with a member of a major donor family not long ago. Do you know what I learned? Major donors – no matter how many zeros their gift includes – are people who are shaping their story. Donors are responsible for stewarding their resources and their legacy, regardless of how much God has entrusted to them.
My “tips for major donors” may look different than most search results because I don’t have a formula. It’s about a relationship. Here are some insights I think may be helpful as nonprofit leaders strive to build stronger relationships with people who invest in the work.
1. Get to know your donors.
Every donor has a story. It is always worthwhile to ask, listen, and take notes. Why does the donor family care about the cause? How did they connect with your nonprofit? What area of the work do they care most about? What other causes are important to them? Why?
2. Seek to understand donors’ lives.
People are multi-dimensional. They have busy families with varied interests, they work and own businesses, they have hobbies and travel. They get sick and have bad days. Look at donors and seek to understand them.
3. Communicate well.
Think about how you communicate with your family and friends. It’s likely a mix of texts, calls, social media posts, letters, gatherings, etc. In the same spirit, update major donors on new developments, positive (and not-so-positive) stories, and impact. Send photos and videos to show progress. Videos don’t always need to be finely edited: Organic videos “on the ground” are popular, powerful tools to capture donors’ attention and imagination.
4. Confidently ask for more.
Always look for ways to engage donors more deeply. Perhaps this means increasing their financial investment in the work, but maybe it means volunteering, hosting an in-home gathering, referring you to a friend, or offering insight and advice on a project or initiative. Remember, donors have skills, expertise, and networks to steward beyond their financial resources.
What didn’t you see on this list? How to find, recruit, or acquire major donors. While some nonprofits are in a season to build up their donor file, more often, qualified, caring, potential major donors are already contributing to the work. Start there. Steward the ones you have.
My friend Tim Smith is a well-respected development officer. In his book, Donors are People Too, he says, “The difference between the donor who gives a one-time gift and the donor who engages for a lifetime really boils down to personal relationships and the systems that drive, connect, organize, and maintain those relationships.”
Major donors are, in fact, people too.