This is part 2 of 3 in a series. For the previous post, go here.

3. Kill self-doubt

Some in your organization might be saying things like: “Our major donors’ investment portfolios have been decimated. There’s no way they’ll give.” I want to help you quash this negative train of thought right now. 

First, while that might be true for some of them, you’ll want to remember that many wealthy people didn’t get there by being stupid. It’s very likely that they planned for such an event by balancing their financial portfolios properly. 

Second, how can you possibly assume what anyone will or won’t do without first engaging, surveying or talking to them. Follow the steps for engaging supporters found later in this guide, and gauge their mindset while you are offering empathy and a listening ear. 

Third, if you’re going to assume anything, assume that they will give and were simply waiting for your outreach. 

And lastly, if you don’t reach out to them, other fundraisers at competing organizations probably will! So stop doubting, start calling.

4. Embrace technology to engage your biggest supporters

Did you have to cancel your big event or gala? Are in-person meetings off the table with travel restrictions and social distancing measures? We know that a lapse in engagement correlates to a lapse in giving, so it is important to start thinking about how you can keep your major supporters engaged when you can no longer rely on face-to-face interactions. 

Digital communications hold the answer, and they can be implemented at scale to make you more efficient than ever.

Whether you are a digital newbie or a seasoned veteran, now is the time to broaden your horizons and go big with technology to cost-efficiently reach your most important donors on the fastest timeline possible, at scale, and in the most personalized and relevant ways. However, it’s very unlikely that your digital team will know how to implement a strategy for major donors. 

Unfortunately, most internal teams focus on populist digital marketing aimed at the low-dollar masses, not aimed at the wealthy and super-wealthy who are likely to be considering making a transformational impact for your organization. Most of your team’s experience will be around gaining quick conversions for low-dollar, transactional gifts. 

Those tactics won’t work for major gifts. So as you implement a digital strategy for engaging your major donors, keep these tips in mind:

  • Give first. Ask for money, you’ll get advice. Ask for advice, you’ll get money. The longer I’ve been in the nonprofit space, the more I see this adage hold true. Make sure that, when you reach out to donors digitally, you are giving to them first. 

Give them the opportunity to share their insights and opinions. Give them the opportunity to share their story and connection to your organization. Give them the opportunity to access special reports and information. Give them invites to virtual events. Give them the VIP, insider scoop on what’s going on. Think about what you can offer that will spark joy for that donor based on their interests and lead with that. Especially think about what your donors need right now and how it dovetails with what you do. Some great examples I’ve seen are:

  • Conservation groups streaming live wildlife cams that soothe nerves with the peace of nature.
  • Operas airing past performances for free online at set times to help those on lockdown stay occupied and feel connected to their community.
  • Museums offering “boredom busters” like coloring books for antsy grandkids.
  • Healthcare providers giving reassuring updates as to how their teams are tackling the pandemic head-on. 
  • Ask donors where they are in their consideration process for supporting your cause. Don’t be afraid to gently ask supporters if they would consider supporting your organization now and in the future. The trick is to do it by asking how likely it is that they would consider supporting one opportunity versus another and when they would be likely to make a decision. More on that in #5 (Engage and offer, don’t ask).
  • Audit your current digital efforts. Don’t let your digital team use email to send crass, solicitous messages to major donor prospects begging for relatively low dollar amounts. Instead, focus on setting appointments with philanthropic-minded people over the next week or two. The goal is to have meaningful conversations with the few (.57%) who can make up your organization’s massive budget shortages, not to gain many, low-dollar transactions instantly. 
  • Go virtual for events. There are so many creative ways to bring people together online nowadays. Host a webinar with subject matter experts from around your organization reporting on your efforts and the impact of donors. Offer virtual tours to help donors visualize urgent needs. Host a silent auction online to make up for the one you typically hold at your annual gala. Get a few key donors together for a video conference call with your leadership to hear their feedback and share more about your efforts on their behalf. Ask major donors to invite their friends to attend. Trust me, major donors love these kinds of engagements. Don’t leave them out!
  • Try video calling. I think I heard a collective groan. Yes, I know that not everyone is comfortable in front of a camera, but there is no avoiding the shift towards video calls and they are the closest you will get to an in-person meeting in this time of social-distancing. We’ve heard from several fundraisers worried about how an older audience will respond to the offer of a video call. To be honest, most of them probably Facetime with their grandkids every weekend. Don’t assume that the technology will be unfamiliar to them. If they express uncertainty, offer to walk them through the process by phone — they will probably be surprised by how easy it is! Many MarketSmart employees work with customers remotely, and have embraced video calls, especially at this time. Their feedback? Overwhelmingly positive. The people they talk to are more relaxed, their conversations are warmer and more meaningful, and they gain new insights into who our customers are as people. I promise that you will experience the same with your donors. So don’t be afraid to ask. The worst they can say is “no,” and then you can set up a phone call instead. 

Tomorrow, we’ll wrap it up with the final post in the series.

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Marguerite McCurry
Marguerite McCurry
4 years ago

right on! I'[m a retired fundraiser…and those are exactly the points I would push right now..’ask your major donors…:”are you ok?” care about them!!! thanks!
Margie McCurry The McCurry Group

Sharon Wangman
4 years ago

Hi Greg
I sent a two page letter to my bequestors last week. It was simply a “care/check in letter”. Majority of my bequestors are elderly, may live alone I didn’t want them to feel any more isolated. I provided my direct line, email and address if they wanted to engage. I gave them an update on the actions the Society had taken in the COVD-19 climate and assured them we are still providing a service to those in need since we have back in 1854. Cheers Sharon

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