10 Ways to Keep Your Major Donors Happy
Major donors are invaluable for any fundraiser, and retaining them during these tough economic times is more critical than ever. At the 2010 Bridge Conference held in National Harbor, Md., July 26-28, Martha Schumacher, president of Hazen Inc., and Katie Jett Walls, manager of individual giving at Capital City Public Charter School, provided 10 stewardship tips to live by in their presentation, "How to Keep Your Major Donors Happy."
1. Communicate effectively
- If a major donor specifically requests that you send her all communications by mail — and never call or send e-mails — respect her wishes and make sure you do just that.
- Emphasize quality over quantity.
- Never miss an opportunity to re-establish organizational credibility.
2. Send a survey
- Surveys work. They give you the information you need to understand each major donor's individual needs and desires. Plus, it's an engagement device.
- Provide incentives for filling it out.
- Include surveys with other mailings such as your newsletter or acknowledgments.
- Keep it short and simple.
3. Invite donors, key stakeholders and prospective donors to targeted events
- Beyond galas and parties, invite them to VIP phone briefings, site visits and virtual gatherings online. Those who attend bond with the organization, and those who don't feel like they're part of the in-crowd for being asked.
4. Provide individualized programmatic updates
- When you send communications, highlight the program that means the most to that specific person.
- Individualized updates take a lot of time and effort, so start with your top 10 donors and some other key stakeholders.
5. Say thank you — over and over again
- There is still nothing more effective than a warm, personal, handwritten thank-you note. Some donors may prefer e-mail acknowledgments, so accommodate them accordingly.
- Public recognition may be important to some donors as well.
6. Give appropriate recognition
- In the annual report, donors turn to the donor recognition pages and look for their names. Make sure their names are there and spelled correctly.
- Award certificates, plaques, room/building name opportunities, etc., for those that reach certain gift levels.
- Further public recognition includes small, medium or large events where your organization can leverage key donors' commitments to encourage philanthropic support of others.
7. Practice active listening
- Listen to your donors and respond in a meaningful way. This establishes trust and credibility for the long term.
8. Audience is key
- Ensure that you are looking at each of your communications based on your specific audience.
- If a particular communication is going to online donors, send it by e-mail. Direct-mail donors, send it by mail.
- Think simultaneously about audience groups and individuals.
9. Identify and utilize your best organizational ambassadors
- Who represents your organization most effectively — CEO, board chair, program officers, all of the above?
- Don't make assumptions, and don't become paralyzed by organizational challenges.
- Put your best foot forward for major donors.
10. Establish a major-donor stewardship culture
- Senior leadership modeling
- Ambassador training for board and staff
- Emphasize donor giving cycle