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Engaging Major Donors by Andrew Olsen

Keys to engaging major donors and deepening relationships

Here are 13 sure ways to engage major donors and deepen your relationships for future fundraising success.

Invite donors to participate in the mission.

There is no better way to create engagement than giving your major donors the opportunity to experience in person the life changing work their gifts make possible. Take them overseas to build a well or a school.  Bring them to a community hit by natural disaster and let them help you pass out food, water, etc. Ask them to come read to the kids in your after school program or to the siblings of children hospitalized at your medical facility. There is no substitute for getting their hands dirty right beside your staff and the people you serve.

Spend time one-on-one.

If you want to build deep, meaningful relationships, this is by far the best way. No amount of e-mail communication, Facebook likes or Twitter posts can replace the authenticity and closeness of personal, face-to-face relationships.

Host small group events.

Big events are great, but engaging through small, intimate events is a wonderful way to build community amongst your most committed supporters. Successful people like to be around other successful people, so chances are your best donors will be excited to connect with others who support your cause at similar levels. You can ask a donor to host an event like this, or host it at your Executive Director or Board Chair’s home. From time to time, you can also use these small events as easy ways for your donors to introduce new friends to your organization.

Ask for feedback on a programs and plans.

Everyone likes to have their opinion sought. This is especially true of those providing much of the funding for your most critical projects and programs.

Create special invitation-only events.

This is something I learned from my time as a political fundraiser. A great way to engage major donors and make them feel special is by providing exclusive opportunities. Giving them opportunities to engage with your Executive Director, Board of Directors, and other high power supporters makes them feel special and appreciated. Exclusivity is something many of these people are used to in their business and personal lives already, so this will feel like a natural extension of the other parts of their lives, and they’ll appreciate that you know this is important to them.

Connect donors with your board directors.

Major donors expect a certain level of access. Making sure they have clear lines of communication with your senior leaders and important volunteers will go a long way. Make this access even more exclusive by inviting donors for one-on-one breakfasts, lunches or dinners, behind-the-scenes tours and briefings with key leaders.

Create a special monthly newsletter.

Offer this via e-mail, via FAX (yes, some donors still have FAX machines), or via postal mail.  Be clear that this is an exclusive monthly message that is only shared with the organization’s closest supporters.  Make it feel like it has come directly from your Executive Director or President, and not something created out of the Marketing department.

Establish a Major Donor club.

Create multiple donation levels with various perks and benefits at each level. Use this as a means to offer exclusive opportunities to your most loyal donors. It will also give you the opportunity to upgrade and retain more donors by providing additional incentives for them to give.

Include a donor feature in your newsletter.

Use that to your advantage. Honor your most committed donors by asking them to tell you and everyone else that supports you exactly why they give. Highlight the things that are important to them like their family, their career history, etc. Not only will this make your donor feel celebrated and loved, it will motivate other donors to step up and increase their giving as well.

Make appreciation public.

If your donor is a business executive, entrepreneur or socialite, they’ll appreciate you recognizing them in front of their most important peers. You can easily accomplish this by purchasing space in the local business journal, or a specific trade publication related to their individual interest. It’s also a great way to highlight your cause to other potential donors.

Create a special secure access portion of your website just for major donors.

This is a great way to share behind-the-scenes video updates, impact reports, survey key donors and provide your donors with 24/7 access to all the information they need to know their gifts are being used efficiently and effectively.

Send personalized video messages from the field.

You probably can’t do this for your entire donor base, but imagine how great your donors will feel when your CEO or Board Chair sends them a personal video greeting and message of thanks from the site of one of your projects. If you’re in a relevant place and your message is appreciative and authentic, donors will love it. The key here is personalization.  Don’t record a generic message that can be sent to all donors. Record messages to specific donors, calling them by name.

Ask for another gift.

Ask again.  It’s human nature to want to be needed.  Those who support you are no different.  In fact, they love to know that you need them and want their support.  Contrary to how you might feel, asking for their support isn’t an intrusion.  It isn’t begging.  It is an inherent aspect of the relationship you have with them.  They know it, and they appreciate when you ask — even if they can’t say yes every time, they appreciate your request.


Andrew Olsen CFRE, is the senior vice president of Newport One. He is an award-winning fundraiser whose work on behalf of some of the nation’s leading organizations has generated more than $200 million to help change lives, influence public policy and shape the nation’s political landscape.

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