A direct marketing bridge to… major gifts

Direct marketing specialists and major gift specialists seem to be opposites in style and approach.  One is impersonal, mass-market, with knowledge of the aggregate not the specific – the marketing equivalent of the Air Force; the other is all about personal relationships, forged one on one, with intimate knowledge of that one person you are pitching – the equivalent of boots on the ground Army or Marines.  This can often cause them to be rivals in the same ways the service branches are; they can also work together to accomplish a mission together like the service branches.

As a direct marketer, developing a small budget to a major gifts program is part defensive.  I once worked with a major gift officer who would mark a donor as no mail, no phone, and no email the moment they got on her radar screen.  Not only did this deprive us of the only real source of revenue we had from these donors, but it also deprive the donor of the information that was tethering them to the mission and tugging at their heart strings.  And when she left, we had no way of differentiating real unsubscribes from these unsubscribes of pseudo-convenience.

This is going to happen if you can’t create a positive experience for potential major donors in your direct marketing program.  Yet it can happen and it can cost tens or hundreds of thousands of dollars for the nonprofit.  There are only two reasons to stop communications with your potential major donors in this way: 1) if they ask you to or 2) you have a relationship with that donor to the point that there is a substitute communications strategy and ask framework in place.

So your role in direct marketing is to build the relationship with the donor over time.  This doesn’t necessarily mean a slower cadence; rather, it means different types of pieces, including a donor newsletter telling them about their accomplishments – the true impact of their giving.  It can also include higher-touch, higher-value communications – handwritten notes or cards, invitations to special events or briefings, or the like.  These can enter the communication stream gradually as your relationship builds.

Direct marketing is also a great vehicle – in fact, a primary vehicle – for identifying those donors who may be receptive to a major donor ask.  While some amount of wealth is certainly a necessary condition for a person to be able to make a major donation, the more important thing to the organization is the tie to the organization.  People often forget this.  If I had a nickel for every time a nonprofit brainstorming potential targets thought of hitting up Bill Gates or his foundation because of a friend of a friend, I would be blogging about what yachts are the most fun to waterski behind.

bill_gates_july_2014

If this man is your major donor strategy,
you do not have a major donor strategy.

What you are looking for is:

  • Giving history – long, repeated, multiple gifts per year, and increasing gift amounts
  • Participation – telling a story, coming to an event, volunteering
  • A clear passion for at least one aspect of your mission either from his/her giving history or participation

The one exception to this is people who make unusually high (whatever this is for your organization – probably between $100 and $1000) first gifts.  This is probably a person who has been interested in your cause for a while or has an important reason to start giving now – they may be ripe for personal interactions as much as your loyal long-term donors.

Looking at this compact list, you can see that you can not only help solicit major donor prospects, you can help create them.  This is by incorporating upgrade strategies into your communications.  If you have well-defined recognition for different levels of giving (and you should), you can make those aspirational, especially for those on the cusp of reaching them, by making the ask for the next highest level of recognition.  Those recognition levels should also be a prominent part of your mail, phone, and online communications, as well as your acknowledgments for these donors.

Finally, remember to thank extremely well.  If you are at lost as to how, check out 50 ways to thank your donors.  Some are usual, some are a bit nutty, but they may spark some ideas to giving your major donors and potential major donors the love they deserve.

A direct marketing bridge to… major gifts

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