Major Gifts: 4 Tips to Find and Engage Qualified Donors
If you’re a major or legacy gift fundraiser, you’re responsible for a lot — least of which is identifying potential donors. You’ve likely prepared a list of prospects after reviewing some transactional data, such as their recency of giving, their frequency of giving and the total monetary value of their gifts. Maybe you even enlisted the help of a wealth screening or predictive modeling firm, too. That’s great! Identification is an important part of the fundraising cycle and helps you assemble a list of target prospects. But the next step, qualification, is even more crucial.
Too often, fundraisers spend their valuable time with unqualified prospects, wasting both their time and prospects’. Qualifying your donors, in short, ensures that you spend your time focusing on developing relationships with the right supporters at the right time. This way, you can attain more gifts (and bigger gifts) at a lower cost while securing long-lasting support.
Qualification is an essential step in the major and legacy gift fundraising process. You can’t afford to skip it. Just because a donor matches certain criteria (they have a big house, a high net worth or give to another local charity, for example) doesn’t mean they belong in your portfolio.
This reality means that you must find a way to focus your time and energy on those donors who do want to have a relationship with you. How exactly do you do this, though? Here are our top suggestions:
- Listen to your donors.
- Segment and prioritize prospects.
- Personalize your outreach.
- Continue to engage and monitor donors.
Finding the right donors to engage with doesn’t have to be difficult. Ready to learn how to better locate and connect with qualified prospects? Let’s get started!
1. Listen to Your Donors
Opening up a dialogue is an essential part of pinpointing qualified donors. It enables prospects to tell you why they care about your cause and if they might consider supporting your organization long-term. This way, you can determine if there’s potential for a relationship with them. The best way to start a dialogue? Create feedback loops!
Feedback loops help you capture verbatims (self-reported information) and digital body language (interactions on your website). This way, you can determine which prospects are highly qualified and which aren’t quite there yet.
To start, create a well-designed, comprehensive donor survey. Surveys invite prospects to lean in, giving you the opportunity to get to know them. When crafting your surveys, consider asking questions focused on the following:
- Why they care about your cause. A donor’s motivation for giving will help you determine if there’s potential for developing a long-term relationship. Later on, once they’re qualified, you can use this information by anchoring your communications around each individual’s unique connection to your organization.
- How they prefer to give to your organization. Whether it’s through legacy gifts or donor-advised funds (learn more here), how a supporter prefers to donate (if at all) is an important qualifier. In many cases, it can indicate if they have the capacity to give, which you can then combine with their commitment and desire to give to better predict the potential for a relationship.
- Suggestions for your programs. Everyone has an opinion. Make sure your donors — your major donors especially — can express their opinions by directly asking about them. Be willing to listen to what they share. Then, implement any useful suggestions that may help your organization further develop a relationship with them.
When you receive a response, the very fact that someone took the time to fill out a survey is a qualifier. But the answers to the questions you ask donors are what helps you determine who wants in and who wants out. Take a look at MarketSmart’s guide to creating effective donor surveys. This professional insight will help you determine which type of questions you should be asking in order to better qualify your donors.
From here, you’ll want to make sure you’re taking donors’ digital interactions with your organization into account. For instance, keep track of:
- Pages viewed
- Videos watched
- Resources downloaded
- Time spent online
- Emails opened
These are just a handful of data points you should be gathering as they can be great indicators for where donors are in the consideration process. Paired with survey data, you’ll gain a much clearer picture of who your donors are, why they support your cause and if there’s potential for a longstanding, authentic relationship.
2. Segment and Prioritize Prospects
Now that you’ve made a serious effort to properly understand your donors, it’s time to segment them. Using the data you’ve gathered (verbatims and digital body language), divide up your donors based on common characteristics. For example, consider the following factors:
- Where are they in the major gift consideration process?
- Have they made a major gift before?
- What about a legacy gift?
- How recently have they given?
- How have they been interacting with your organization?
- Where in your organization would they like to make an impact? Why?
These are just a handful of the questions you should be asking to create useful segments. Once you’ve segmented your donors, it’s time to prioritize them. In other words, who are your most qualified leads and how should you reach out to them? Taking the time to prioritize donors ensures you’re engaging with the most qualified leads first.
Better yet, let your technology do the legwork for you. Software that offers automated engagement scoring helps you quickly prioritize your donors based on who’s ready for outreach and who’s not quite there yet. From here, it’s time to start contacting your qualified leads.
When segmenting and prioritizing your donors, it’s important that you have a strategic plan in place and follow best practices. Learn more about effective segmentation with this donor segmentation guide from Doubleknot. By researching the best segmentation techniques, you’ll arm your team with the knowledge it needs to better (and more efficiently) qualify your prospects.
3. Personalize Your Outreach
Nonprofits need to take extra care in developing loyal relationships with prospects by conducting effective outreach. Doing this requires more than just putting a name on a letter. Instead, organizations need to create highly-personalized communications based on the segments they’ve created and the priority levels they’ve assigned. Otherwise, prospects will feel unappreciated and may choose to make their major impact with another philanthropic cause.
Depending on the donor, offers can range from watching a video to meeting in-person (if they’re ready). Either way, take into account each donor’s interests, passions, desires, needs and where they are in the consideration process to create personalized outreach that’s much more likely to yield results.
Remember, it’s important to show them that you’ve been listening by taking their preferences into account. For some donors, that means a phone call. For others, an email. Some may not want to engage at all right now, and that’s OK! Don’t rule them out quite yet.
Just because they don’t want to engage now doesn’t mean they’ll want to be out of your caseload forever. In many cases, these individuals could still benefit from cultivation and stewardship communications. Keep them in the loop by updating them, thanking them for their contributions and inviting them to events. With the right kind of communications, they might decide later on that they want to talk to you and make a major impact on your organization.
In short, messages to donors are what opens the door for communication and can motivate donors to commit to supporting your organization long-term. Because of this, you should take extra care in making sure all communication is authentic and wanted — no exceptions. Forcing conversation doesn’t get you anywhere, especially with major donors and prospects. In fact, it actually works against you by driving major donor prospects away, even if they are qualified.
4. Continue to Engage and Monitor Donors
Nonprofit fundraising requires a huge amount of time and patience — especially when it comes to major gifts. You need to be strategic and persistent as you continue to engage with donors, all while you carefully monitor your relationships with them.
Even once you’ve established a solid line of communication, engaging your qualified donors doesn’t stop there. From here, you need to continue to offer valuable engagement opportunities to keep them involved and your organization top of mind. This is the only way to build trust and to grow relationships to the level each donor needs before they decide to give.
By closely monitoring your relationships with donors, you’ll learn what action to take and when to take it. To make the engagement process easier for your team, you should monitor information such as:
- Conversations, indicating any qualifiers that arise
- Interactions on your digital platforms (i.e. your website, social media, email appeals, etc.)
- Recent donations.
As always, remember to survey! This is a great way to check in on donors who are navigating the gift consideration process and show them that you care about their opinions. Use the information that you gather to understand how you can facilitate their giving.
Stop chasing identified but unqualified prospects. By taking the time to qualify major donors, you’ll spend a lot less time writing and calling people who won’t respond. You can focus your valuable time communicating with those who want to make an impact by supporting your cause. So what are you waiting for? Get started locating and engaging with the right prospects!
Over the past 6 years, in his role as senior solutions advisor at MarketSmart, Jeff Giannotto has advised organizations of all sizes on engagement fundraising. Leveraging integrated technology and marketing, MarketSmart helps nonprofits generate, qualify, cultivate and prioritize potential donors. Over the years, Jeff has consulted with Salvation Army, City of Hope, Food For The Poor, ASPCA, Girl Scouts of the USA, Special Olympics and more.