Plan to Build Meaningful Relationships with Major Donors


A Beginner’s Guide to Major Donor Fundraising Success: Step #2, The Plan to Build Meaningful Relationships

Last time we worked through the steps of figuring out how many major donors you can successfully manage, and which major donors you should manage.

Now that you have your portfolio set, it’s time to start building relationships with these donors.

An exceptional donor experience is at the heart of an effective major donor fundraising program. This means attempting to build a genuine and authentic relationship with each donor.

First, work through your list and come up with a plan for each donor. Focus on your current major donors first, then your lapsed major donors, then your prospective major donors.

During this phase, you will develop fundraising offers (what would the donor be excited about funding?), communication calendars (when are you going to approach them?), and the best fundraising approach for each person (how are you going to approach them?)

Here’s what this involves:

  • Identify the best possible fundraising offer for each donor by matching up their interests with your organization’s needs. (Free eBook available here.)
  • Determine the next step for each donor in the Ask, Thank, Report, Repeat communication rhythm.
  • Create a systematic but relational plan to connect the donor’s personal mission/heart with the mission/outcomes of your organization.

Plan to have three to four interactions (meetings or phone calls ) with each donor per year. Then add in some additional email or text check-ins. When your portfolio is the right size, this is very possible!

One or two of the meetings should be asking the donor to make a gift. The other interactions should be thanking and reporting back on what their giving made possible.

For a full-time gift officer, this will mean 7 – 10 major donor phone calls or meetings each week.

Next time… a bonus simple strategy to start building major donor relationships IMMEDIATELY!

Read the series:

  1. A Beginner’s Guide to Major Donor Fundraising Success: Step #1, Build Your Portfolio
  2. A Beginner’s Guide to Major Donor Fundraising Success: Step #2, The Plan to Build Meaningful Relationships (This post)
  3. A Beginner’s Guide to Major Donor Fundraising Success: BONUS Simple Strategy to Build Relationships Immediately
  4. A Beginner’s Guide to Major Donor Fundraising Success: Step #3, How to Ask for a Major Gift

What to Plan First in Fundraising Communications


There’s an idea I use to help organizations create fundraising plans that raise more money:

Identify the pieces of fundraising you create that raise money, and put those on your annual plan before anything else.

Then, make sure you can produce and send all those revenue-generating pieces on time before you add anything else to your calendar.

Of course you will have to add other things. We all do.

And of course there’s a place for stewardship.

But there are people in your organization who treat all communications as equal, not realizing that some raise far more than others. And after you make your plan, you are going to be asked to make and send out additional comms that are not on the plan.

That results in real-life, impact-reducing scenarios every year:

  • Organizations send out an e-news (that doesn’t raise any money) instead of sending out that print newsletter (that raises thousands of dollars)
  • Organizations spending another two weeks polishing the annual report (which loses money) instead of sending out an appeal (which raises thousands of dollars).

But this does not happen in organizations that plan for their revenue-generating fundraising communications first and foremost. They don’t plan for as many e-news because they know that the print newsletters take time. Or they choose not to polish the annual report any longer because they know that, if they do, they won’t be able to make their appeal on time.

What you put on your calendar first, matters.

1 Update + 2 Challenges Incoming


We have some “big picture” guidance for Fundraisers today.

(All of this will make more sense if you’ve downloaded our free guidance on Fundraising In a Pandemic: What Will Happen, How You Can Succeed.)

First, here’s an update based on what we’re seeing and the results the organizations we serve are experiencing:

  • The bad news – I suspect “the slump” is going to last longer than we expected. The number of things being canceled this fall implies that the economy won’t be up to full speed for months. This will lengthen the slump.
  • The great news – “the bump” is much larger and lasting a lot longer than we originally expected. A majority of our clients are having record-breaking springs. If you’re not fundraising right now, you should be. Donors want to help right now. As @PatrickTiernan said recently on Twitter, “Charitable giving allows people to exert a sense of control in a world that is otherwise spinning.”

And now, a word about the future. Most organizations are going to face two significant challenges over the coming months.

Challenge #1

Modifying your fundraising so that it’s relevant to donors, while still following direct response best practices.

Because if your fundraising sounds like it’s business-as-usual, it will sound irrelevant to your donors in the new world we’re living in.

Your go-to offers will work best if they’re recontextualized to today’s world. Additionally, you probably have new offers available to you (new things you’re doing, new needs you’re meeting, new expenses you’re incurring, new revenue shortfalls you’re experiencing, etc.)

This is going to be hard work.

Challenge #2

Staying the course when you start raising less money.

Sooner or later, that appeal that annually brings in $50k is going to bring in $35k. And then that email that usually brings in $35k is going to bring in $26k.

You’re going to be tempted to mail less. To stop spending money to acquire new donors. And to cancel that campaign.

But that’s almost always the wrong approach. Because during “the slump,” you’re playing a longer game than normal – you’re playing for mindshare. And you don’t keep mindshare by slowing your communications.

Because if you stay top-of-mind for your donors – when “the surge” comes – it will happen faster for your organization, and you’ll raise more money.

It’s Nice to Have a Map

We keep hearing from Fundraisers (and Board members and E.D.s) that they don’t know what to do next because the world is so different right now.

We’re sharing the updates above, and published Fundraising In A Pandemic so that any Fundraiser can have a “map” for what the next few months will look like.

Remember, organizations like yours have survived (and even thrived) fundraising situations like this one before.

And if you’d like help during this crazy time, get in touch. We can help you keep your fundraising relevant during the coming months, or even create your fundraising for you.

Good luck out there! And right now, perhaps more than ever, “lean in” to donor generosity. They want to help!

A Procrastinator’s Guide to Year-End Fundraising

A Procrastinator’s Guide to Year-End Fundraising.

Just getting started with your year-end fundraising?

Here’s a quick list – my best tips – for what to do with your remaining weeks before the end of the year.

Make a Plan to Start Earlier Next year

First, the hard news: if you’re just starting now, you’ve left money on the table. You could have raised more.

That is a harsh truth. Many people won’t like to hear it. But it’s true. And for the moment, don’t worry about it. But right now, go set a calendar reminder to start earlier next year.

Seriously, set a reminder.

I’ll wait.

It’s that important.

The organizations that start their year-end fundraising earlier tend to raise more money.

What to Do Now

Do as many of the following things if you can. And here’s the order I’d prioritize them in:

Identify and contact your major donors who have not yet given a gift this year.

Don’t do what most nonprofits do, which is hope that their majors give a gift before the end of the year.

If you haven’t already, identify exactly which of your major donors have not given gifts. Then reach out to each of them to ask for a special year-end gift to help your beneficiaries (not to help your organization). Do it in person if you can; phone is the next best way. Tell them their gift is needed now, and tell them their gift will make a difference!

Write and send your year-end letter.

Send out a direct letter that powerfully asks donors to give a special gift before the end of the year. Tell them their gift is needed now, and tell them their gift will make a difference!

If you use a mail house and it’s going to take too long to get a letter produced, here’s what to do:

    1. Figure out how many letters you could print and send using your in-house process.
    2. Start sending those letters to your top donors, starting at the top of your file and working down.

Write and prep your year-end emails.

Be sure to have at least three emails prepped for the last three days of the year. Remember that you do not have to reinvent the wheel: the emails should be VERY similar to your letter, and the emails should be very similar to each other. Repetition is the most effective tool you didn’t know you have!

Tell them their gift is needed now, and tell them their gift will make a difference!

Update your website to ask for a year-end gift.

Make an update so that the first thing users see on your home page is a clear call-to-action and a large “donate” button.

And … wait for it … tell them their gift is needed now, and tell them their gift will make a difference. You will raise more money than you expect.

That’s it! Do as many of those as you can, starting from the top of the list.

Do a great job on each one before doing anything else.

And if you can only do three things, do the top three. If you can only do two, do the top two. You get it.

Remember: year-end is the easiest time of the year to raise more money than you expect!

How to Prepare for Fall Fundraising Success [VIDEO]

Prepare for summer.

Happy Summer!

For the next couple weeks, we’re doing a mini-series of posts and videos about how to use your summer to prep for fall fundraising success.

I hope that July is a slow month for you. In fact, I hope you’re on vacation as I write this!

But if you’re not, and you know you could be using some of this time to prep for the most important fundraising season of the year, here are our recommendations.

Watch this short video (less than 5 minutes) for the tips that we’ve seen help nonprofits the most.

After you watch the video, take a break. You’ve worked hard today! But then calendar sometime later this month to do a little prep work. You’ll be so glad you did!

4 Steps to Create a System to Raise More Major Gifts

Over my 20 years of doing and teaching major donor fundraising, I’ve noticed something that small nonprofits should pay attention to:

Organizations that have a systematic approach to major donor fundraising raise the most money and have the most satisfied donors.

It’s really that simple.

The system that I recommend has 4 easy-to-follow steps. And if you do them right you’ll honor your donors, deepen your organization’s relationship with them, and raise more money.

Don’t get me wrong, installing this system takes real work. But the work isn’t hard – especially when compared to the personal and financial results you’ll see!

Let’s get to it . . .

Step #1 – Identify exactly who your major donors are

  • If you already have very specific criteria for who is a major donor, or your organization is currently managing major donors, move to step #2.
  • If not, then pull a list of all donors that gave your organization a gift in the last 24 months. Sort them by total giving. The donors at the top of the list are your major donors.
    • I realized that “the top of your list” is a little imprecise. But it varies wildly by organization. The main principle is to identify the donors who give the lion’s share of your donations, call them your major donors, and then cultivate them with more time and effort than your other donors. If you have less than 100 donors, treat all your donors like major donors. If you have 10,000 donors, you’re probably looking at a group of 250 to 500 donors.

I used the word “exactly” because most small nonprofits don’t clearly define who is and who isn’t a major donor. And because of that, some major donors don’t get cultivated well. Gifts (and relationships) are lost.

Step #2 – Rank your major donors

Just knowing who your major donors are isn’t enough. You must rank them, but not just by financial capacity or historic giving.

Most major gift officers make the mistake of managing their list from the financial information only. There are other factors at play! Factors like whether the donor has a strong relationship with someone associated with your organization, and whether the donor has a strong affinity to your organization or to your cause.

How to implement this step is too much for one blog post. But to help you rate and sort your donors, I created this spreadsheet for you to read and use.

Step #3 – Create a plan for each major donor

Now you know who your major donors are. You’ve rated and sorted them. It’s time to create a cultivation plan for every donor on your list.

First, for each major donor, decide who at your organization will be responsible for the relationship. That may be your Executive Director, it may be a “major gifts officer,” it may a Board member. The point is to make sure that someone is responsible (and accountable) for each major donor relationship.

Here’s what happens if it’s “management by committee” and no one single person is responsible for a major donor relationship. That means that everyone is responsible. Which means that no one is responsible. Which means the relationship won’t be cultivated as well. Which means the donor is likely to give less and less – and then leave altogether.

Once each donor has been assigned to a person, then make a communication plan for each donor, so you can cultivate a relationship that leads to a point where an ask for support is warranted and even expected. This should be a step-by step plan, mapped out over the course of a year. Know exactly what your plan is for asking, thanking and reporting.

This work requires reviewing the major donor rating sheet on a daily basis and reviewing/updating your moves strategy as needed, as fundraising goals are met or the donor’s appetite for working with you evolves or changes.

If you fail to plan these steps, you are planning to fail.

Step #4 – It’s time to Ask

Once you have completed steps 1-3, you move from internal planning to external action.

In many cases it will be time to Ask a donor for a gift. Donors who have recently given a gift will need to be thanked or reported to.

My advice is to know exactly where each donor is in the Ask, Thank, Report, Repeat rhythm, then make the appropriate next move. A “move” is major donor fundraising jargon for “the next step.” And what experienced fundraisers do is plan a series of “moves” over the course of a year to lead the major donor to making a gift. (This is the “step-by-step plan” I’m talking about in Step #3 above.)

These “moves” could include in-person meetings, phone conversations, writing thank-you notes, sending emails, sending a copy of your newsletter in a nice envelope, etc.

Here are three quick pro-tips for you

  • The more in-person meetings you can get, the better.
  • Never have lunch alone!
  • Major donors are far more likely to give you another gift if they have been well-Thanked and Reported back to re: their previous gift.

Step-by-Step + Accountability = Success

Doing all of this absolutely creates more work than you’re doing now. However, it makes all of the work easier because it takes the mystery out of successful major donor fundraising. Instead, you have easy-to-follow steps. Just build your system and then work your system.

Just make sure that accountability is part of your plan!

Make sure the plan for each donor is written down. Make sure the plan is measured and followed. True fundraising success happens when your organization has a custom plan for each major donor, each step is tracked, and the person responsible for each step is held accountable. Do that, and all the little steps needed to build the relationship will happen.

I hope this blog post encourages you to take your major donor planning and strategy to the next level. I believe you can do it!