Soliciting Major Gifts: It's More Than Direct Marketing on Steroids
The best place to prospect for major donors is in your small- and middle-donor files. Plenty of major-gifts officers will tell you that their biggest contributions often come from people who started as $25 donors.
Those donors have loyalty and commitment. They understand and support your mission.
But turning them into major donors doesn't happen overnight. As Mark Twain said, "A round man cannot be expected to fit into a square hole right away. He must have time to modify his shape."
In other words, it takes more than just ramping up your direct marketing with stronger and more personal appeals. Actually, you should have already done that — with closed-faced carriers, First Class postage and higher-touch copy — to take them from small- to middle- to high-dollar donors.
Cultivating major donors takes something more. And, just as when you're compiling your regular donor lists, it starts with doing your homework. From ground-level research, like looking at which donors are active in civic affairs to using wealth overlays on your file, your first step is to find out who has the means to become a major donor. And that's the easy part.
As my old pal Julie Bostick, major-gifts officer at the University of Tampa, says, "Once you're talking to people you know have the capacity to give, it's about connecting to them and helping them find the inclination."
After a lifetime of having the inclination to give much smaller amounts, changing their giving habits means slowly and gradually changing the way you ask them to give.
"It's very different from direct mail, for example, where you have one message you've carefully developed, then sent out to everyone on your list," Alicia Figueiredo, vice president of development at Catholic Charities of the Archdiocese of Washington, says. "With major gifts, your message is tailored specifically for that donor. So you have to start building a relationship with him or her, to understand their values and what they're trying to accomplish through their philanthropy. Then give them the opportunities to act on those values."
Willis Turner believes great writing has the power to change minds, save lives, and make people want to dance and sing. Willis is the creative director at Huntsinger & Jeffer. He worked as a lead writer and creative director in the traditional advertising world for more than 15 years before making the switch to fundraising 20 years ago. In his work with nonprofit organizations and associations, he has written thousands of appeals, renewals and acquisition communications for every medium. He creates direct-response campaigns, and collateral communications materials that get attention, tell powerful stories and persuade people to take action or make a donation.