Net Gain: ‘Major’ in Online Relationships
A nonprofit organization’s Web site might not be the point of transaction for six-figure
donations, but it can serve as a powerful tool in cultivating major gifts.
An effective Web strategy can help build relationships with major donors by identifying prospects, capturing information and providing a high-touch, 24/7 communication channel. It offers a great way to have more frequent, less invasive (and less expensive) interactions that empower donors by putting them in the driver’s seat. The key is to align your organization’s Internet strategy with your offline major-
giving program and the specific needs of your major-donor prospects.
Major gifts and major donors
Major gifts, or leadership gifts, generally are made to support new initiatives or address a significant need within an organization. They often are the most critical gifts a nonprofit receives, but they also are the most difficult, expensive and time-consuming to obtain. To effectively cultivate a major donor, it’s important to keep some basic characteristics in mind.
* Make gifts that exceed a pre-defined amount (anywhere from $100 to well over a million);
* Usually have been affiliated with an organization for a long period of time;
* Allocate their resources — both time and money — selectively;
* Want to have an impact on your mission;
* View their support as a long-term partnership;
Expect to be treated as special and unique.
In short, major donors have different needs and expectations from regular donors and typical Web visitors. Meeting these needs is key.
Begin with a strategy
The first step to strengthening major-donor relationships through the use of the Internet is to determine what your prospects and donors want and overlay this with what you want to accomplish. The basic principles of the traditional fundraising pyramid still apply online.
Following is an example of the major-donor life cycle as applied online by a museum:
Identification: finding the prospects with the propensity and capacity to make a major gift.
Example: A local artist was identified through prospect screening — she owns a highly successful gallery, is a long-time donor to the annual fund and regularly attends openings at the museum.
Qualification: gaining a deeper knowledge of the needs and interests of prospects.
Example: The prospect’s Web activity indicated that she spent the majority of her time viewing the educational programs pages.
Cultivation: strengthening the prospects’ sense of connection and involvement.
Example: When the prospect visited the Web site, news and links from the educational-services department were displayed on a personalized Web page, and customized e-mails were sent to her listing upcoming classes and workshops.
Solicitation: developing a “shared” vision of the gift and making the ask.
Example: The museum adjusted its solicitation strategy to focus on educational programs, rather than exhibitions, and currently is discussing the establishment of an endowment.
Stewardship: saying “thank you” and demonstrating return on investment.
Example: Once the gift is secured, the museum can extend special benefits and customize the patron’s home page to show how the funds and assets are being used.
By communicating on a personal level on the Web, organizations can build long-term, meaningful relationships that, over time, may lead to major gifts. A personalized Web site enriches visitors’ experiences and can increase the frequency and the duration of their visits.
If you’re thinking about making some changes to your Web site to better serve your major donors and prospects, here are some techniques to get you started:
Online registration/member sign-in. Having Web visitors log in does much more than just welcome them by name — it allows your organization to collect invaluable information on prospect interests and online activity, which then can be used to provide personalized content and targeted features.
Online programs and benefits. Provide increasingly higher-value online content and features to donors as they move up the donor pyramid. Provide services that help to expand the reach of your organization as well as offer more value to your most valuable donors.
Online communities. Connect visitors to each other. Allow them to contribute to blogs, make posts in a forum or chat directly with others who have similar interests.
Online stewardship. Major donors want to know how their gifts are being used to make an impact on a cause. By providing a link to real-time information such as news, testimonials, webcasts and interactive reports, you can show donors how their donations are being used. Qualitative reporting on results, such as a live video feed of a construction project in progress or a blog written by beneficiaries of the gift, can be just as meaningful as financial information to a major donor.
With an exponential increase in Internet use and online donations, it’s important for nonprofits to realize the true power of adding technology and e-philanthropy to their development tools. It’s critical to ensure that the appropriate infrastructure is in place: technical and support elements, quantifiable goals to measure progress, and the right technology partner. Having a single customer-relationship management solution for online and offline contacts can help personalize content, provide a holistic view of constituents, and meet needs and preferences for messages and communication vehicles.
Nonprofits are facing more and more competition for support everyday. Many successful organizations are turning to the Internet to better differentiate themselves, increase fundraising and operate more efficiently.
By leveraging the Internet, organizations have the opportunity to build stronger relationships with their constituent community — including major donors — to support their mission today, and in the future.
Charlie Cumbaa is senior vice president of products and services at Blackbaud Inc. Contact: www.blackbaud.com.