MSF’s major undertaking
The woman in charge of fostering relationships with high-dollar donors — those 1,200 generous individuals who contribute more than $5,000 annually — is Mary Sexton, a former MSF volunteer who took her post as major gifts officer in 2003.
“When I started here, there had been only limited contact with these people,” Sexton affirms. “Now we’re making a concerted effort to meet with them one on one to find out what their interests are and why they chose to come to us. Is it because of our work with HIV/AIDS? Or because of work in Africa?”
Previously, the MSF development staff had cultivated major donors on a minimal basis and without a long-term strategic plan. They at first had a hard time knowing what global issue, or issues, inspired donors to give at the higher level.
“You look at a donor record now, someone who’s been giving to us since 1994. They might have started off through direct mail giving maybe $50, and then went up to the $500 level,” Sexton goes on. “Now, for the last five years, they’ve been giving $5,000. Here is a person who might be ready to move up to the next level.”
Enter Sexton. As part of her work to develop relationships with high-dollar donors and provide them with a real-life sounding board, she zips off handwritten notes to every individual who contributes more than $5,000. Those donors also receive personalized renewal letters once a year to encourage them to give again, as well as to upgrade their gift; an annual report; and MSF’s Insider newsletter, a new publication that vets the organization’s humanitarian undertakings around the world.
“The challenge for us is that we don’t take donors into the field, even though some relief agencies do,” Sexton says. “So we’re always trying to figure out ways to keep people personally involved, where they really do feel like they’re an invaluable part of our work.”