How to Treat Big Donors After They Give a Major Gift
I like to think of fundraising as beginning after someone makes a gift! That may seem strange, but it’s not. In the capital campaign business, the focus is on raising a great deal of money from a relatively few donors. And it’s all too common for staff members and volunteers to focus their attention exclusively on getting those major gifts.
Here’s what happens…
The Common Scenario After Big Donors Give
In the run up to the campaign, the organization develops a list of the top 20 or 30 prospective donors. They develop a strategy for each of them. They learn as much as they can about the donors, invite them in, ask them for advice and finally ask them for a gift.
Once the gift comes in, they write one or, perhaps, two thank-you notes. Often the thank-you notes are impersonal and formal. And then… they turn their attention to the next donor on their list, leaving the donor who just gave behind.
The assumption they make is that a thank you closes the asking process. But this is not the way to operate!
Because how you steward a donor after they’ve made a gift is at least as important as how you cultivate them beforehand.
If you’re a donor who gives a large gift, you may wonder if the primary reason people pay attention to you is because you have money. For most people, that’s not a happy thought. And when the organization forgets about you once you’ve made your gift… well, that only confirms your suspicion.
So What Should You Do?
Cultivation is what you do before you get a gift. Stewardship is what happens afterwards. And most organizations give stewardship short shrift!
But what I know for sure is that the better you are at stewarding donors after they make major gifts, the more successful you will be.
5 Personal and Immediate Ways to Steward Big Donors After they Give
Below is a list of five simple ways you might steward your donors after they’ve made their gift. I have not included the common standard approaches, like honoring them at a gala or sending them fancy do-da’s for their desks. Instead, this list covers more personal and immediate stewardship.
1. Keep in Touch
Keep a list of your largest donors right on your desk. Scan it every morning and think about which of those donors you can appropriately email with some new information about the progress of your campaign and your project.
You needn’t email all of them all of the time, but when something exciting happens, drop them a brief email or give them a call to let them know.
Don’t rely on standard language. Instead, write personal emails or letters that genuinely reflect your excitement and appreciation.
2. Ask Them to Get Involved
Once someone has made a significant gift, they have “skin in the game.” Find opportunities to ask them to get involved.
- Invite them to serve on a campaign committee.
- Ask them for their advice about something they are qualified to help with.
- You might ask for fundraising advice or advice about an upcoming event.
- Perhaps ask them to host a small event at their home.
3. Send Videos and Photos
Use your smartphone to take photos or videos that show progress.
For example, if construction is underway, snap a picture of the workers or bulldozers and send it along. One or two photos that show progress is a great way to stay in touch.
You might even take a short video of a staff member talking about how excited she is to see the new construction.
4. Forget Formal Events, Invite Them for a Quick Tour
You don’t have to organize formal events to invite your donors in. Just call or email a donor or two to invite them in for a quick hardhat tour.
In fact, for many people, an informal and personal invitation is much better than a formal gathering. You should get to know your donors’ preferences when you get to know your major donors.
5. Show Them the Impact
As your project comes to a conclusion and your programs start serving more people, invite your major donors in to see for themselves. There’s nothing quite like seeing the real impact of their gift.
Big Donor Stewardship Matters
If you steward your donors well, they will feel the remarkable power of their generosity. And they will be happy they gave to your campaign and eager to stay involved long after the campaign is over.
What other ways might you steward your big donors? Leave your ideas in the comments below.
Let’s talk strategy sometime. Apply here for a free 30-minute capital campaign strategy session. Don’t worry, there’s no hard sell at the end.
Andrea Kihlstedt is a co-founder of the Capital Campaign Toolkit. She is the author of "Capital Campaigns: Strategies That Work," now in its fourth edition, as well as "How to Raise $1 Million (or More) in 10 Bite Sized Steps," in addition to other books. Andrea has been leading successful capital campaigns for more than 30 years.