The first thing that many major gift officers will instinctively do when they see their donor portfolio is to shut down direct marketing efforts to those donors. After all, you want the donor to take your call and don’t want them mistaking you for a telemarketer.
Imagine if you tried this in any other walk of life. Imagine going to Jeff Bezos and saying “this person has been buying a lot of stuff from us on Amazon. Let’s make sure they never get another email from us, because I really think that I can sell them the Lladro Niagara chandelier for $100,000 (plus $4.49 shipping, which is either far too much for shipping or far too little).”
He would laugh at you until he got stomach cramps. Or he would have an underling, possibly with a mechanical arm, throw you in a vat of piranhas while he stroked a cat. All depends on the mood.
Bottom line, it’s silly to take someone who has been donating routinely by one means and, by all available evidence, been satisfied with it and cut them off from that means in the hope they might give more. You should only change this if the donor asks you to (in which case, you should do so immediately, while smiling) or if you have a relationship with the donor to the point that there’s an alternate communication strategy in place.
That said, the major gift officer is right. You don’t want to treat a potential donor the same way as a potential $10 donor. This is not a defense of sending someone with the capacity to give a transformative gift the same 12-mail-pieces-and-a-cloud-of-dust approach that everyone else gets. It means:
A donor newsletter. You hopefully are doing this already. And you hopefully are basing it on Tom Ahern’s Making Money With Donor Newsletters. In case you aren’t, your donor newsletter should:
- Focus on “you” — you being the donor
- Focus on what “you” did — progress updates and impacts
- Have short articles
- Be written for skimmers — white space, bullets, and compelling headlines and images
- Have a return envelope but not be as “ask forward” as a traditional mail piece.
This more cultivating newsletter will help you make money from these donors. But it also creates a holding pattern for your major gift officer. You’ve already made the segue to what impact the person can have, leading to a more natural conversation when the officer is able to get in front of the donor.
Higher-touch communications. This can be simple things like crossing out the impersonal salutation on a letter and writing in “Dear Nancy,”. Paperclips in your mail pieces show that the piece has been touched by human heads. First-class postage is a nice touch, as is expedited postage to get the mail piece to the donor. One nonprofit of my acquaintance has their CEO write a holiday letter in blue ink, then copies it on the color copier for a handwritten appearance. These are techniques that can segue naturally to higher-value communications with a major gift officer.
Higher-value communications. We’ve discussed the supreme value of exclusivity. A major donor may want to be able to get a sneak preview of your upcoming report or have an exclusive briefing call with your head of government affairs. These types of velvet rope communications can build to events where major gift officers can meet with them face to face. Once natural enemies, direct marketing can set up the major gift relationship.
Helping define the major gift portfolio: You are looking for one of two things: a long giving history with multiple gifts per year, increasing gift amounts, and participation in the mission or someone who makes an unusually high first gift. Usually the first group will be better prospects.
Thank extremely well. Have you ever heard a potential major donor consider not making a major gift because they were thanked too well or too often? Me neither.
Overall, you are looking to create a spirit of cultivation with these donors. And you should give of your donors to your major gift officers. By being a strong resource for them, you prevent them from trying the nuclear suppression strategy with you, allowing you to maximize revenue from these donors over time.