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December 3, 2021
How to Cultivate Better Relationships with Major Donors
By Jeff Giannotto

Jeff Giannotto
Jeff Giannotto
Nonprofits need major donors who will support them again and again, and to do that organizations must show they're listening, that they care about donors' needs, and that donors feel they're a valued part of your organization.

If you’re not actively expressing appreciation for major donors (especially in ways that are meaningful to them), you run the risk of them losing interest in your organization. And when donors feel underappreciated, they tend to take their support to different organizations where they feel more valued.

To cultivate better relationships with donors now, consider these proven tips:

1. Learn what Motivates Donors to Give

Knowing why donors feel connected to your mission is the key to crafting effective communications and appeals. The easiest way to figure out why they give? Just ask.

Self-reported information (commonly referred to as verbatims) gives you valuable insight into who your donors are and why they support your organization. To determine a donor’s “why,” all you need to do is create and distribute a donor survey. It should include questions focused on:
  • Their passions
  • Personal connections to your cause
  • Programs they care about
  • How they prefer giving to your organization (e.g., legacy gifts, donor-advised funds, etc.)
  • Other nonprofits they support
  • What they do in their free time (e.g., interests, hobbies, etc.).
Donor surveys not only provide your organization with actionable information, but they’re also powerful engagement tools. Once you know about their interests, wants, needs, and desires, you can craft effective follow up marketing and provide prospects with real value.

See more tips on creating an insightful survey.

2. Look into Behavioral Data

Self-reported information is undoubtedly helpful, but it doesn’t give you the complete picture. To cultivate even better relationships, organizations need to be one step ahead and collect data without a survey response. Do this by taking a look at donors’ interactions on your website. This is referred to as a donor’s “digital body language,” and it can be really useful in targeting your communications.

For example, if they’ve visited one of your programs’ pages several times (and maybe even downloaded a resource about its impact), you know that they’re most likely interested in that program. Take that information and use it. Incorporate the program into your next appeal, because they may consider directing a donation to it to help you continue your good work. Or better yet, simply keep the program in mind the next time you interact with the donor whether it be via email, face-to-face, or direct mail.

It’s of the utmost importance that you track the following:
  • Videos watched
  • Pages viewed
  • Resources downloaded
  • Time spent online
  • Emails opened
By tracking this important data, you’ll gain a much better sense of who your donors are and why they support your organization. Paired with survey data, you gain a clearer picture of what your donors are interested in. With this, you can then tailor your relationship building efforts.

3. Meet with Donors Face-to-Face

Nothing can replace the authenticity of in-person meetings. Make sure you’re engaging the right donors at the right time, though. To create a donor-centric culture within your organization, interact in a mutual and authentic way with supporters, especially when it comes to face-to-face meetings.

As you get started, keep these engagement ideas in mind:
  1. Start with an introductory meeting. At the very least, line up a phone call, but if possible, you’ll want this meeting to be face-to-face. This develops a sense of authenticity and trust. Think of this as a get-to-know-you meeting for both parties. While you explain your mission and future fundraising plans, ask about who they are and why they’re interested in your cause. If you already have their survey response or digital body language, leverage that information to tailor your talking points with the donor. Remember, the meeting is about them, not you.

  2. Host other get-togethers and meetings. Continue to develop the relationship by offering other opportunities to get involved. This could be volunteer opportunities, donor cultivation events, office tours, check-in calls, etc. Give your donors every opportunity to interact with you, and they will. And again, keep in mind what they’re already interested in when sending out invitations and the like.
Each major donor prospect will have a unique relationship with your organization, so for every interaction, prepare by reviewing their profile, including self-reported information and digital engagement data.

There’s no doubt it can be hard to manage this information at scale, and having the right software tools will help. Choose software that has the ability to map out and plan meetups with major donor prospects. Then, while you meet with them, automated communications can keep other leads warm, letting them know they’re a priority. This supports your goal to ensure that donors feel valued and respected.

Remember, major donors develop relationships with nonprofits the same way they develop relationships with people: slowly. Therefore, don’t rush it. Be patient and respectful, and you’re sure to cultivate stronger and longer lasting major donor relationships.

Jeff Giannotto, senior solutions advisor at MarketSmart, helps organizations of all sizes enhance their fundraising programs by leveraging integrated technology and marketing to generate, qualify, cultivate, and prioritize potential donors.
February 2020
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