By Amy Beros, Vice President of Development, Food Bank of Central & Eastern North Carolina and Staci Barfield, Executive Director, Children's Flight of Hope
Nonprofits love to talk about the importance of major donors to their organization’s success but there are few who truly make these donors a priority. Building a major donor program is a lot more than writing a thank you note after a gift to your organization - a major donor program is about intentional connections.
Every donor has a personal story about your organization. Your job as a fundraiser is to draw that story out and build a platform of change in your community because of that donor’s passion. This doesn’t mean you create a brand new program to fit your donor’s hopes and dreams. Not at all. However, you must find out what drives your donor to take time out of their day to make that gift to your organization. Then build off of that reason to create a personal connection to every donor in your portfolio.
The reasons donors give will vary greatly and that is what makes our jobs as fundraisers so interesting. After working in fundraising for 25+ years between us, we have heard all the reasons you can imagine and more! From a personal connection to the mission (always great) to a passion for children (they are pretty darn cute) to a belief that no one should go without basic needs (we agree) to wanting to ‘screw over’ the man by reducing their capital gains taxes (hey, we will take it).
So how do you find these wonderful gems of information? You talk to your donors! You take every single one of your donors in your portfolio and you create a personal plan for each of them. Yes, everyone gets a personal plan designed just for their engagement with your organization. This is how you take a donor’s experience from transactional to exceptional with your organization. Look at all of your annual touches to donors – your newsletter, annual report, acknowledgment letters, thank you calls, etc. Put those into your plan. Next, thinking about the donor and their interests, add in personal touches just for that donor.
Perhaps the donor is passionate about kids summer meals; add a touch in early summer to take the donor to see one of the program sites and another at the end of summer to meet and talk about the outcomes achieved. One of the largest individual donors I worked with was actually more passionate about Duke Gardens than the organization I worked for, so Duke Gardens became part of my touch plan for the donor. Our meetings were held while walking through the Garden in different seasons.
The details sound simple and that’s because they are. But they are time consuming, which is why so few organizations have a well-built-out major donor program. We are all stretched thin and wear many, many hats but without our major supporters, most of us aren’t able to open our doors each morning to serve our communities. This is why they should be a priority. One of us does not work without the other. Block twenty minutes three mornings a week for thank you calls to donors. Create engagement opportunities throughout the year. Treat your major donors like part of your organization’s family. Be personal. Be genuine. We share one thing in common with every major donor in your portfolio - passion for the mission. That’s really the only thing you need to pick up the phone and start talking.