One Major Donor Millionaire’s take on Major Gift Fundraising

Andrew VaethGiving, Nonprofits

Donor Engagement

Recently, during a casual lunch with a friend I had not seen in some time, the subject came up about work — how’s it going, what’s new, etc. In my turn, as I shared the latest goings on here at Cureo and our work with nonprofits, I managed to trigger something in my friend — a little rant that’s worth sharing.

First, a little about my friend, the philanthropic millionaire, a millionaire willing to help. He’s a highly successful tech executive and entrepreneur. In his 50’s, he finds himself giving back as a major donor and is very passionate about the causes he donates to and volunteers for. One of these causes is a global research nonprofit working on a cure for chronic disease — an inherited disease that happens to plague members of his own family.

The rant:

“Oh my goodness…don’t get me started! I just received my annual call from these guys — I let it go to voicemail. I give a six figure donation to these guys every year. I don’t need to hear how important their organization is — how I’m one of their largest donors. I’ve already won every award they can give out at their annual meeting.

My question is, where have they been all year? What have they done? Where did they put my money to work? Did they move the needle at all? They never ask me to help in ways that don’t involve a check? I know, I’m not going to volunteer at their race, but I’m sure there are other opportunities for me to help!

And believe me, I have offered a number of times. I’ve asked for more frequent, and more relevant data. Maybe I can make new connections. Maybe I can assemble a volunteer team of some of my super talented staff to riff on a problem or deliver a solution of some kind — in areas of marketing, HR, capital projects, operational expansion — whatever!

I guess I feel disconnected and under-utilized. The information they give me each year is overproduced, one-size-fits-all, glossy paper, professional pictures — you know the routine! How much of my money did they spend to produce that?

The irony is, I might be willing to give them a lot more money if I had a better sense of things — if I were just a little more intimately connected — and if it wasn’t like pulling teeth to pull this stuff out of them!”

I’ve had enough exposure in philanthropy to know that my friend’s attitude is not that uncommon. It pains me to see things play out like this when just a little tweak to communication procedures — and maybe a slight tweak to organizational philosophy around contributor engagement — can unlock untold increases in revenue and volunteer hours for a nonprofit.

3 things to consider when increasing donor engagement:

1. Make it personal. Technology today makes it pretty easy to communicate and even collaborate with discrete groups or even individually with VIPs with information that is relevant specifically to them. Essentially, this allows you to keep your finger on the pulse of every important contributor.

2. Make it consistent. It doesn’t have to be weekly or monthly — certainly no less frequently than quarterly — it depends on your situation as a nonprofit. But frequency, consistency and continuity (a continual narrative) of communication is key. Your backers will grow in their trust, intimacy, and gratitude for your organization.

3. Make to multi-directional. If you send me a brochure in the mail, no matter how beautiful or informative, I can’t easily reciprocate with my questions or ideas or offers to help. If this is all you do, you’re losing tremendous opportunity. And don’t think that sending that email blast newsletter is any better — that’s not something I feel I can reply to or engage with you on. No — make sure your communications feel discrete and personal, and encourage personal, private replies with ideas and questions. When done right, email is perfect for this.

You work hard. Your team works hard. Your goals are big and the challenges are huge. It’s not easy doing what you do. There’s not always good news to report. No matter. Find a way to personally, consistently, and collaboratively interact with your contributors — and you can avoid being the unwitting target of a millionaire’s rant about major gift fundraising.

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