In every nonprofit organization, there is a great deal of focus on bringing in new donors each year. Sometimes, irrational optimism takes hold with offices envisioning a herd of new unicorns marching through the door – first-time donors making five-figure gifts that will transform the agency for years to come.
Needless to say, such reality is seldom witnessed. More importantly, lost among these dream visions are the single greatest asset to nonprofit fundraising growth – existing major donors.
The prevailing school of thought responsible for this misdirection is the Atlas-complex that deifies giving at a certain level, especially among early supporters. The thinking supposes that donors just tap out at a certain level and it would be audacious to ask them to do more, perpetuating one of the greatest fallacies in philanthropy.
Of course, new donor acquisition is essential to the long-term sustainability of any nonprofit. But the reality that we know through data is your highest dollar prospects are already involved and welcome the dialogue for higher levels of giving.
If you want to tap into this rich well, you cannot approach it recklessly or presumptively. No solicitation will fall flatter than one that diminishes a longtime track record of five-figure giving by simply asking them to give more for the same results.
With this in mind, 3 elements should guide your upgrade solicitations with major donors:
- Innovation. Many fundraising departments are labeled “Advancement” or “Development”, both of which imply an agency growth beyond shear dollars. It’s extremely difficult to upgrade high dollar donors from Gift A to Gift B without some advancement of your own. Major donors give for different reasons, but in all my relationships I like to spotlight innovation whenever possible. This is best accomplished during cultivation and stewardship visits to gain a sense of how this might align with a donor’s particular passion. Don’t ever make a solicitation on a hunch. Use dialogue over time to assess what organizational developments might speak most powerfully to an individual, and then apply this knowledge to a customized upgrade solicitation.
- Impact. Major donors have been broadcasting for years their willingness to increase donations for tangible returns. A Bank of America Study of High-Net-Worth Philanthropy found nearly 2/3 of major donors would consider increasing donations if provided access to more information on performance. Similarly, in a study of more than 15,000 donors published in the Chronicle of Philanthropy, nearly half said they could have donated more the prior year and would increase giving if they saw results. Make sure your major donor visits are not general stories peppered with a few jokes, as is a common approach of gift officers looking to make the same play of renewing annual support at the same level. Show donors the impact they are making on you and the impact you are making on the community and use it to make the case for a bigger investment.
- Inspiration. Naturally, the more inspired a donor feels about your work the more they will invest, both financially and emotionally. But to position for an upgrade, you have to get them inspired about more than your mission. First and foremost, they must be inspired by YOU, the fundraiser. They have to feel your energy and passion, your intellect and empathy, and your connection to them as a person. In accomplishing this, you then have the ability to inspire them about more logistical things: your agency’s potential to thrive, to be exceptional stewards of donations, and to embrace best-practices across the board.
With individual giving predicted by many experts to decline substantially this year, it is vital to nurture the relationships you have with key champions, and together chart a bold course forward for your mission.
When most of your nonprofit revenue comes from private donors, you need strategic processes in place to identify potential donors and communicate with them effectively.
This is where marketing comes in.
Is your marketing team well versed in modern marketing strategies?
Read our guide entitled 10 Questions to Ask Your Marketing Team About Donor Acquisition Strategies to find out.
You can download it here.
About Perry Jowsey
Perry Jowsey, CFRE is a professional fundraiser and featured speaker who has been leading financial turnarounds for more than a decade, where he has generated more than $20 million in revenue specializing in small and financially distressed budgets. Perry has worked with local and international media, foreign government delegations, and philanthropists on the Forbes 400. In unparalleled acts of fundraising success, he has cut costs while producing ROI’s as large as 4000%, leading to features in national trade publications and special invitations to present to groups around the United States. Here is the link to Perry's LinkedIn profile