Tips to Build Stronger Major Donor Relationships

Last updated: March 1, 2021

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Over the years, iWave has helped many nonprofit organizations of all sizes build stronger major donor relationships. Our fully customizable platform enables you to quickly and efficiently identify the insights that matter most for your organization, freeing up more time to actively engage your major donors.

Major donors are people who are deeply passionate about your cause, and nurturing a meaningful relationship with them will help your nonprofit be successful both now and in the future.

Although there is no universal approach to building stronger major donor relationships, there are some key guidelines that can help you forge lasting connections with those most dedicated to your organization.

Related: Get the Major Gifts from Major Donors ebook

Foundations of Strong Major Donor Retention Strategies

Major donors provide large gifts that can cover the bulk of a nonprofit’s expenses, despite making up a very small percentage of the total number of donations.

To bring the full impact of major donations into focus, consider that although these donors typically make up less than 1% of individual donations to a given organization, they make up over 70% of the total revenue from donations.

Depending on the size of your organization, major gifts may be categorized by different amounts. Regardless of size, however, the lifeblood of any nonprofit is the quality of its donor relationships. The key here is to make quality over quantity your mantra across the board. This better ensures the long-term success and impact of your organization.

A More Comprehensive Picture: Affinity and Wealth Capacity

Focusing on developing long-lasting relationships with your donors, regardless of their perceived giving power, will help you grow a dedicated community of supporters. When gathering information about your donors, you’ll want to consider two main aspects:

  • Affinity or level of dedication to your mission and vision.
  • Capacity or how much they can potentially give (as indicated by a wealth screening).

Determining a prospective donor’s affinity requires an understanding of what motivates people to donate. Though this often includes personal reasons, donors will typically have an affinity for:

  • Nonprofits or individuals they both respect and trust to keep doing good in the world
  • Organizations they feel are continually making a meaningful difference in the areas they care about
  • Nonprofits that not only request donations but make it simple to do so and offer numerous ways to give

Capacity takes into account a variety of wealth indicators, which is crucial information when pursuing new major donor relationships. iWave’s nonprofit fundraising intelligence places accurate data right at your fingertips. The solutions we provide enable users to turn quality data into actionable information, so they can achieve fundraising goals quickly and easily.

Together, capacity and affinity  comprise a major chunk of the fundraising puzzle. They’ll guide you forward as you work on grabbing your donors’ attention and cultivating strong relationships. This is often a lengthy process, but by following some of our best practices, you’ll be well on your way to developing lasting connections with major donors.

The Power of iWave’s Affinity Score

One of iWave’s major goals is to help nonprofits deepen their understanding of major donors and prospects. As our fundraising intelligence uncovers more granular information about a donor’s giving interests, we’ll also show you where, how much, and how often the donor is giving to other organizations. You can easily review this with your internal giving information!

To simplify this deeper understanding, iWave is the only platform providing an affinity score. We’ll help you prioritize major donors that already have an affinity for your mission. Then, you can focus on donors that will be quicker to convert!

Major Donor Engagement Fundraising

At the heart of all lasting relationships is a culture of authentic communication. Part of this communication includes asking questions to foster a deeper connection. Therefore, one of the most important steps on the path to developing stronger major donor relationships is gathering reliable, high-quality information.

Understanding even more about why donors engage can direct you to approaching them in a genuine way. Sincerity can leave them wanting to stay connected to your organization for longer!

By requesting feedback, you demonstrate your interest in your donors’ thoughts, feelings, and opinions—the foundation of every meaningful connection. Inquiring about these thoughts and feelings can also further emotional investment and commitment to your cause. To take this one step further, you can take clear action based on the feedback you receive.

Ways to Effectively Gather Donor Feedback

Requesting feedback is an important type of engagement fundraising. This type of fundraising is designed to position the prospect or donor as the hero of the story. Just as people like being asked questions about themselves when they’re getting to know someone new, donors like being asked about their thoughts and opinions.

The key to garnering strong feedback from major donors is simply to open a dialogue and ask questions, one-on-one. The gifts these donors provide may be the backbone of your fundraising efforts, and as such, major donors deserve to be treated as individuals. Ask them questions about their personal experiences in lieu of generalized surveys or polls.

Respecting your donors’ boundaries and preferences demonstrates your attention to detail and a mutual effort on the part of your organization. This lays a strong foundation for two-way communication, which in turn nurtures the relationship.

As good as it feels to perform a good deed, it feels even more refreshing to interact with an organization that listens and responds to your requests!

Best Practices for Crafting Surveys

Taking a holistic approach to gathering information about your prospective major donors will better ensure no money is left on the table. With this in mind, one of the most valuable bits of information you can gather is the why behind what motivates each individual donor to give.

There is a variety of ways to collect this type of information, but nine times out of ten the clearest, most direct, and ultimately best way to get what you’re looking for is by simply asking. This is where surveys come back into play.

Surveys are an excellent way to get clear, complete answers to this question and other related ones your nonprofit is curious about. Just make sure that they are customized for each major donor, so as to maintain that personalized feel.

Ask Meaningful Questions First

When crafting your survey, start with the most engaging questions at the beginning. Then, end with any relevant biographical data you’d like to collect. Some of the things you might ask about include a donor’s:

  • Personal history and events that led to their involvement
  • Greatest passions, drivers, and motivations both personally and professionally
  • How they spend their time, as well as any hobbies, interests, and skill sets
  • Specific programs they care about most and why
  • Giving preferences and contribution considerations to your nonprofit

Lastly, you might consider asking about their philanthropic involvement in other organizations. With answers to these questions, you’ll have a well-rounded picture of the type of person each donor is, along with what inspires them to act.

How to Get Accurate Answers

To get the information you seek, it’s important to think about how you pose each question included during the feedback stage.

Avoid using any kind of leading questions. This means leaving out any words that could potentially influence how a donor will respond. By keeping bias out of your questions, you increase the likelihood of getting honest feedback.

Another way to ensure you find out exactly what you want to know is by only asking about one aspect of your organization in a given question. For example, instead of asking what they like and dislike about a new program, break this question into two, even though it is about one service your nonprofit offers.

Since you’ll be posing these questions in a one-on-one discussion, either in person or virtually, it’s a good idea to lean on the donor’s individual profile as you prepare questions.

Consider Who Will Engage with Major Gift Donors or Prospects

Does your organization currently have a major gift officer (MGO)? These vital members of your organization oversee your major gift efforts. They identify, cultivate, solicit, and spearhead stewardship.

These are also the team members who will be building relationships with your major donors!

Depending on the size of your nonprofit, you may have an entire team of major gift officers who will handle donor engagement. A smaller organization may only have one MGO.

If your organization does not currently have an MGO, an executive director may step in to handle major donor engagement. However, we think you’ll find that by designating an MGO, these efforts are even more streamlined.

Use Prospect Research

In combination with the surveys you’re collecting, prospect research can help you nurture major donor relationships at the right time. Wealth screenings can quickly identify key wealth indicators, such as:

  • Donation history with your organization, as well as with other nonprofits
  • Professional background, education level, and current employment
  • Stock and/or real estate ownership such as a home, rental property, or land

These indicators can be valuable, especially when it comes to prioritizing your organization’s time and resources for major donor engagement. However, remember, even if someone has the capacity to give, they may not have the affinity to do so.

For this reason, the most effective way to approach major donor relationships is by focusing on prospects who sit in the sweet spot of both capacity and affinity.

iWave Can Help you Find the Donors You’ve Been Overlooking

Unbeknownst to your nonprofit, some of the best major gift donor prospects may actually be sitting in your database right now! By comparing external data (the capacity, propensity, and affinity we discussed earlier) with your internal data—the Recency, Frequency, and Monetary Score (RFM)—iWave can show you the Hidden Gems who can give more to you!

We also offer industry-exclusive Multi-Lens Modeling. This unique feature allows nonprofits to examine donors through five different lenses based on their giving interests.

Do you have a donor who is not classified as a major donor but has the capacity to be one? Multi-Lens Modeling helps you identify their interests, so you can tailor messaging for them. The goal is that these enhanced nurturing efforts can inspire the donor to upgrade to the major level!

Include Other Types of Donors, Too

Though wealth indicators can be crucial in identifying major donors, don’t overlook dedicated volunteers, either. It’s entirely possible for these people to later become annual or legacy gift givers or other vital resources to your community.

Additionally, if you build lasting relationships with your volunteers, they will more likely spread the word about your nonprofit, potentially bringing in major donors. Even in our digitally advanced age, word of mouth is still an incredibly powerful tool for nonprofits.

In summation, the numbers provided by a wealth screening do matter, but they aren’t the entire strategy. Nurturing a wide range of donor relationships, some at the ground-level of your organization, leads to more opportunities for connection.

Learn from Online Interaction

Another helpful aspect to examine when building major donor relationships is your prospects’ online engagement with your website, which is also known as their digital body language. This can include everything from content they download, such as informative brochures, to video plays and email clicks.

Look at where they’re headed when they visit your website. Frequent visits to a particular page may reveal a keen interest in a specific program or offering from your organization.

However, such indicators may not be as obvious as they initially appear. Once again, consider the quality of their engagement over the mere quantity. For example, an infrequent visitor who navigates directly to your donation page might be a more reliable prospect than someone who frequently visits your website with less focused intent.

A Comprehensive View

When you put everything together including survey answers, self-reported data, wealth indicators, and type and timing of online engagement, you should naturally know when to reach out. If a potential donor with strong indicators recently visited your donation page, now may be an ideal time to give them a call.

With all this valuable information in your arsenal, you’ll be ready to provide personalized engagement to every donor.

Communicate to Connect with Major Donors

In addition to gathering data to help you better understand your donors, another vital part of ensuring major donor retention is establishing an open dialogue. Take care to craft authentic communications with donors who have demonstrated openness to doing so.

When reaching out, incorporate plenty of ways for donors to engage if they want to, rather than just sending out information about what your organization is doing.

At the same time, if someone indicates they do not want to engage at this time, take care not to force anything. Doing so is a sure way to turn a prospect off from donating to your nonprofit.

Customize All Communications

Let the specific program, cause, or area of your organization that moves a donor be your guide in engaging with them. This means using their particular passion points as a central theme to your communications and marketing with them.

Using more complex methods of storytelling can also serve to nurture even the longest standing relationship. No matter which stage in the giving process a donor is in, they want to feel moved and connected to something bigger than themselves. How you decide to communicate with them and at what time plays a key role in the development of the relationship.

Use Automation to Your Advantage

Once in place, automated communications informed by reliable data can free up your team to focus on other engagement strategies. Most importantly, it ensures your gift officers have the necessary time and resources to provide one-on-one attention to major gift donors, which is key to solidifying the strongest relationships.

Speak from the Heart

For major donors, one of the greatest rewards of giving to your organization is the emotional satisfaction they feel from contributing to your cause. Therefore, it’s essential to emphasize your appreciation for their connection to your cause and the vital role they play in it.

Continue to Follow Through with Stewardship

Now, you may be wondering what to do with all the valuable donor data you collect. The short answer is that it depends on the donor. The only way to truly cultivate stronger major donor relationships is by getting to know your major donors.

With the right information in hand, you can devise an engagement strategy that meets the needs of everyone involved.

Every donor is unique, and there’s no single approach to follow when it comes to donor stewardship. However, no matter where your organization is in the process, you’ll want to focus on processing all your donations quickly.

Basic Steps of Stewardship

In general, though each type of stewardship engagement will look different depending on the individual, the process should begin when a donor makes a donation to your nonprofit. As soon as possible, you should send out thank you letters.

After that, you can take time to learn about the donor’s desired level of engagement, as well as how committed they are to your cause. Moving forward, tailor all your communication to meet the requests of the donor and make a point to continue acknowledging their contributions over time.

One way to bring this home is by specifically showing them the impact of their gift or gifts for your organization in your communications.

Show Major Donor Appreciation

The more you know about your donors, the more likely you are to show gratitude via their preferred channels. When engaging with donors, it’s also a good rule of thumb to put yourself in their shoes. This, along with letting the way an individual donates inform your stewardship strategy can maximize your organization’s fundraising success.

Finding creative, personalized ways to recognize your major donors goes a long way in fostering the connection. In your communications with major donors, directly and concretely demonstrate the impact of their major gifts. Intentionally targeted emails and newsletters are ideal opportunities for showcasing your major donors, giving them a platform to share their story.

A few other stewardship ideas to consider utilizing in your major donor engagement strategy include:

  • Dedicate something related to your nonprofit to the donor
  • Make a website page about the donor and their contribution
  • Tell the donor and your community about the impact of their gift

Even the humblest donors want to feel like heroes in some small way. Provide them the right outlets to rave about their passions, and you should see positive improvements in the relationship.

Be sure to follow up with additional surveys to find out what keeps your major donors involved, engaged, motivated, and inspired!

Build Stronger Donor Relationships with the Help of Prospect Research

By drawing from billions of datapoints, our fundraising intelligence solutions provide a wide range of insights that cover ability to give, giving history, and everything between. With this balanced view of each individual donor, you’ll have the necessary information and power to establish and strengthen major donor connections.

Let iWave provide, organize, and customize the details for you, so you can spend more time nurturing meaningful connections face to face (or virtually). We also offer personalized onboarding and unlimited support, so you can make the most of every ask year after year.

Discover how we can help you properly position your nonprofit to develop lasting major donor relationships. Contact us to schedule a free demo or fundraising assessment today!

Written by Admin

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