Welcome back to the Major Gifts Challenge! If you’re unfamiliar with the Challenge, check out the introductory video here.
Before you can even ask for a major gift, you need to focus on gratitude.
Donors Don’t Simply Give Money…
- They save lives…
- They feed the hungry and house the homeless…
- They educate children…
- They help cure diseases…
Donors are so much more than a money tree.
They are a fundamental part of your nonprofit team.
Without donors, you wouldn’t have an organization or programs and services. Until you start treating them as key players, they have no real incentive to give more.
Stewardship is About Making Donors FEEL Thanked
Caring for donors should be continuous.
In fundraising, we refer to stewardship as the final part of the fundraising process. It’s the follow up AFTER a gift is made.
However, you should be prepared to thank your donors long before you ask for a gift. This is because too many organizations ask for money and then neglect their donors.
The staff members at those organizations wonder why they struggle with fundraising! Donors don’t give again to organizations that don’t appreciate them.
It’s important that you not only thank your donors, but that they FEEL thanked.
It’s also important to thank your donors so they understand the impact they’ve made on your organization’s work. You must thank your donors so they want to give again and again and again.
Thank in multiple ways by multiple people.
A good rule of thumb is that a donor should be thanked in multiple ways by multiple people. This means getting a call from a board member, a handwritten note from the executive director, and email from the development director.
Donors also need to be told how their donation was used, BEFORE being asked for another gift.
How to Create a Major Gift Stewardship Plan
The crux of your plan is to determine who, when, and how you will follow up with your donors.
All donors cannot be treated equally due to limited staff and resources. It’s important to have a plan for every donor.
Keep in mind, small donors become big donors. Rarely do major donors start out that way. Studies have shown that most major donors begin with gift of $100 or less.
With that in mind, be sure to thank all your donors in the most personalized way possible.
Who to thank?
Board members, the executive director, and development staff should all be involved in thanking your donors. If appropriate, have clients participate too.
When to thank?
Donors should be thanked as soon as possible. One week is standard, but sooner is better.
How to thank?
In addition to a tax receipt, donors should get a handwritten card or note. Have board members or other volunteers make thank you calls. Consider listing donors in your newsletter, annual report, or on your website. If you asked in person, you should thank in person too.
Convey the impact.
Follow up with donors a few weeks or months after receiving a gift, and let them know how their funds were used, in other words, the impact they had on the mission or cause.
Create Better Stewardship Materials
Donors should be primarily thanked in the way they gave, and you’ll do this with well-crafted stewardship materials.
Online donors receive a thank you email. Donors who give through the mail, receive a thank you letter. Major donors get thanked in-person, in addition to letters and calls.
You can use your initial thank you letter as a template.
Your initial thank you letter can provide the basis for all of these types of thank you’s. Your thank you letter should be fresh and relevant. It should contain up-to-date information and new success stories.
Aim to write a new thank you letter at least annually. The base of the letter can stay the same for most donors, but write several personalized paragraphs that can be swapped in and out for different donors.
For example, you should have distinct language for first time donors, repeat donors, major donors, board members, volunteers, and so on. The goal is for donors to feel like they are receiving personalized letters or emails.
Thank donors for helping you fulfill your mission.
Remember, you’re not simply thanking donors for a wad of cash, but for helping fulfill your mission. Report back. Thanks to them, more children will be vaccinated. Kids are safer in after school programs instead of going home to an empty house. Let them know what their gift means to the community. If they are they helping eliminate an infectious disease, tell them. Report back how they are creating safer communities.
If you will have board members make thank you calls, draft talking points for them. Let them know whether they should leave messages. Decide whose number they will leave for the donor to call back (theirs or yours).
If you expect the executive director to write personal notes, write a sample draft note. Provide the note card as well as details about the donor, such as whether they are a new donor or long time donor.
This week’s Challenge Yourself Action Item involves two steps that will take several hours to implement. But these will be hours well spent, as they will determine the ongoing success of your major gift program.
Challenge Yourself Action Item
Step 1: Create a Stewardship Plan.
Determine who, when, and how you will follow up with your donors. And don’t forget to report back on the impact of their donation.
Step 2: Update your stewardship materials.
Take a look at your thank you letters and talking points. Make sure you update these materials so they are highly personal, contain updated stories, and focus on the difference donations make in helping your cause.
Once you’re ready to steward, you’re one step closer to asking for Major Gifts!
Going Further with Major Gifts
Stewardship is a critical piece of raising major gifts. How well you steward your donors will determine whether they make a second or third major gift.
In Mastering Major Gifts, course participants learn that major gift fundraising is rarely about the first gift, but about the 3rd, 4th and 5th gifts over a period of years. Students are given specific metrics to watch, so they ensure the highest major gift donor retention rates possible.
If you’re truly ready to raise major gifts, Mastering Major Gifts walks you through all the detail-oriented steps you need for this very critical step.
Act, Comment and Participate
Now it’s your turn to share your progress with the Major Gifts Challenge.
How do you follow up with donors after they make a gift? What’s the most rewarding follow up experience you’ve had? What makes stewardship so challenging at your organization?
Let me know about your experiences with stewardship in the comments.