12 Ways to Engage Major Donors During the COVID-19 Pandemic

Major donors thrive on their ability to fuel the causes they care about in a very substantial way. Even in a year when overall giving growth declined, revenue from major gifts increased.

Major Donors Infographic

Adapting your major giving strategy to succeed in the next normal should top the list of every nonprofit. That’s why DonorPerfect teamed up with DonorSearch to answer these critical questions in How to Discover Major Donors in Your Database Today, a free guide designed to equip fundraisers with helpful tech and tips for major giving in an ever-shifting world.

Identifying a major donor is only the beginning. Once you know the “who,” it’s important to determine the “how.” How will you solicit your new major donor? How will you communicate your organization’s need in a way that resonates with their goals as philanthropists?

We surveyed hundreds of fundraisers to find out what they’re doing to develop major donor relationships, specifically during the COVID-19 pandemic. Here’s what they recommend:

Promote your COVID-19 relief fund to major donors

When fundraising events had to be canceled, fundraisers sent an appeal to major donors asking for emergency funds that would support their mission throughout the pandemic. While COVID-19 relief funds debuted last spring, nonprofits continue to communicate their needs to major donors as operational costs and projects arise throughout the year.

Invite major donors to sponsor a matching gift challenge

Major donors love knowing that their money is being used to raise more money. Over the past year, fundraisers identified prospects to contribute to a match pool. Match pools can be used in a number of different ways, including:

  • Doubling donors’ individual gifts when they contribute to a specific campaign
  • Promoting monthly giving programs via matching gifts
  • Encouraging donors to hit a fundraising goal to receive a full match

Unless they prefer to remain anonymous, be sure to highlight your major donor matcher throughout your campaign.

Swap face-to-face meetings for socially-distanced engagement

A multichannel communication strategy designed for major donor cultivation (ex. calls, videos, emails, print media, social media, and video meetings) has been key to the success of many nonprofit organizations. While in-person events are a no-go for the most part, fundraisers have seen strong participation in virtual meetings and events. One nonprofit swapped major donor meetings with porch-dropped gifts of appreciation for their loyal funders.

In addition to individual outreach, consider forming shared-interest groups among donors to discuss specific projects or aspects of your mission via quarterly Zoom meetings.

Nonprofit Zoom Meeting

Continuously share your nonprofit’s plans and progress

Your major donor screening equips you to determine their interest in regards to projects they’ll want to invest in and updates they’ll want to hear. Tailor timely updates to the work and outcomes that resonate most with them and demonstrate how each step of progress is a direct result of their generosity.

Ask staff and board members to perform major donor outreach

Nonprofit organizations have appointed a lean “major gifts staff” or committee to research and solicit major donors from assigned portfolios. Each portfolio is intended to achieve annual team and individual fundraising goals. Organizations that didn’t have dedicated major gifts officers divvied up the work, identifying major donors and matching them with an appropriate staff member (ex. CEO, executive director, development director, etc.) or board member who is tasked with cultivating the relationship.

Create a major donor society

Some fundraisers have founded a major giving society to recognize and reward major donors, while encouraging them to give again in the future. Here are three main benefits to forming a giving society:

  • It gives major donors a clear benchmark. If the cut-off for your major giving society is $10,000, a donor who was thinking of giving in the $8,000 range is going to be more inclined to bump her gift up to $10,000.
  • It’s exclusive. Who doesn’t love feeling a little special? By including your major donors in an elite society, you’re giving them the public acknowledgement they deserve and the perks that come along with that recognition.
  • It opens the door to high-quality stewardship. Grouping all of your major donors into one society makes communication and interaction easy. You can create society-specific mailings, drip email streams and virtual meetings and events, in addition to a whole list of great perks and opportunities. The society lets you personalize your stewardship for all your major donors at once!

The principle behind forming a major giving society is much like the principle behind starting a monthly giving program. You’re taking donors on a direct path from one-time donors to lifetime donors!

Ask local businesses to sponsor a special fundraiser or project

Sometimes home base is the best place to start, which is why some nonprofits partnered with businesses in their community to gain sponsorships for projects or fundraisers that could also be beneficial to local business owners.

Conduct Zoom meetings, from one-on-ones to remote tours

Fundraisers are discovering that much of what they did in the past to connect with major donors can take place online:

  • Swap face-to-face meetings for online video calls.
  • Invite major donors to attend virtual events.
  • Show your mission in action with an online facility tour.
  • Invite select donors to Zoom meetings about special projects.

Go public with displays of gratitude

Since special mentions at events are no longer an option, nonprofits have been spotlighting major donors on a digital stage with thank-yous, acknowledgements, blog posts, and interviews featuring major donors on their website, social media channels, and in their newsletters, both online and direct mail.

Thank you to major donor

Apply for grants from donor-advised funds

With the challenge of balancing an increased need for both services and funding, many nonprofits are incorporating donor-advised funds into their fundraising strategy. One fundraiser recommended looking for donor-advised funds that have recently been allocated for COVID-19 relief and applying as soon as possible.

Check in on your major donors – about them, not their gift

The pandemic has had far-reaching effects, devastating the nonprofit sector and the economy as well as families and individuals. From business setbacks to family or personal illness, your major donors may be going through a crisis of their own. Lots of organizations are checking in on their donors, calling just to see how they are. It’s a small gesture but an incredibly meaningful one.

Invite major donors to keep tabs on projects in real time

Why make major donors wait to know the status of the projects they’re funding? Nonprofits are getting creative with impact updates, inviting major donors to tune into the progress they make possible whenever they like via social media posts with daily snapshots of their work and live streams of their projects that invite comments and other types of engagement.

Start adapting your major giving strategy to the next normal

Learn how to find major donors in your network and establish relationships that will further your mission now and in the future. Complete the form below, and we’ll send you a guide that’s packed with the best practices and smart tech recs you need to make it happen.

by Emily Patz

Mar 16 21
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