4 Simple Steps on How to Treat Major Donors Like Investors and not Cash Machines

It is important that we treat our major donors like ‘shareholders’ of our charity– is a great way to improve our relationship with donors and boost retention rate as well as long term fundraising success. They donate to ‘invest’ in beneficiaries, hoping to have potential impact of this ‘social investment’ in the beneficiary’s’ lives for good. Thus, in business term, their ‘Return on Investment’ is the ‘impact’ our organisation is going to have in the beneficiaries’ lives. As a major gifts fundraisers, our job is not only to bring money in but also to communicate back to our donors-investors the final ‘social impact’ of that money-investment.

Once your major donors have donated, you must have an engagement calendar with a minimum of 3-6 non-transactional communications per year, which has variety of different styles and meetings for you to show the difference their money-investment has made. This would not only make them feel ‘engaged’, but also prepare them for your next ‘ASK’ which should not happen until you feel they are ready for that. This will help to further connect your major donors with your vision and mission.

On the other hand, if you park your major donor until the next ‘ASK’ and do not communicate effectively with them and show the transparency and accountability, then it is a clear indicator that you are treating them as a ‘cash machine’. Which means that you are only contacting them whenever you need more cash, assuming to push right combination of buttons and money comes out. That is the part of the reason that today entire sector suffers with very low retention rate.

People donate to your organisation not because they have money, but they actually see your organisation as a great opportunity for their ‘social investment’. Therefore, it is important to make them feel that they are being reported to as ‘investors’ and ‘shareholders’ with right information to update them on their contribution and enabling them for their future decisions to make more ‘donations-investments’.

You must have an agreement with your major donors from the onset of how often you will be communicating with them and why.

Finally, the communication you have with your major donors must show ‘CARE’ at each of these four steps:

Concise:   We often think long and big reports will make our major donors happy, however, that is a wrong perception, as they do not have the time to go through, for example, a 10 page report. Therefore, send something clear and concise. It could be one email, being more effective than your ten page reports.

Action: Show how their money is in action on the ground and making an ‘impact’ in peoples’ lives. You can include a specific story of your beneficiaries, such as how your organisation has changed their lives for the better.

Relevant: The challenge with major donors is that every major donor is different, therefore if you send material to them that has no interest to them, this will only emphasise even more that how little you know them. Fundraisers often make this mistake of sending all type of updates from their organisations to their major donors, which means nothing to them. Make sure whatever you are sending to your major donor, it is ‘relevant’ to them. If they care about a specific project within your organisation, then send the relevant reports of that project.

Exclusive: Communication from your first ‘thank you letter’, to further ‘project reports’, must be exclusive and bespoke, which makes your major donor feel special. Do not copy and paste something off your website. Sometime you have to ask someone more senior and influential in your organization to make thank you call or write a thank you letter. This could be one of your trustees or CEO or patrons, whomever you think will be suitable and would give the impression of ‘exclusivity’.

Note: ‘Investment’ is used metaphorically and has not been replaced with ‘donation’.