Engaging Major Donors Online | npENGAGE

Engaging Major Donors Online

By on Jun 12, 2009


Last year’s research into the online behaviors of the wired wealthy changed the way many people viewed the online channel and the role it plays with mid- and major-donors. Inspired by the research and the impact it could have Mikaela King and Nancy Withbroe, CFRE with CDR Fundraising Group have created a whitepaper around their experience putting the findings to work.

Here’s a guest post from Mikaela with links to the whitepaper.

Online Marketers: savvy, fast-moving connectors of constituents and causes, engaging donors to contribute to the cause conversation. Major donor officers: one-on-one relationship builders with individual donors, discussing in-depth program information focused on thoughtful cultivation of large gifts.

Can online marketers and major donor officers find mutually-beneficial ways of integrating their expertise?  Can we get along? Absolutely!  And in reality, we must. The Wired Wealthy study by Convio, Sea Change Strategies and Edge Research, which came out last year, shows us that major donors are already online in a significant way, and unfortunately, most nonprofits aren’t doing a very good job of communicating to them through this medium.   

In fact, online marketing and major gift officers use many of the same approaches towards cultivating engaged supporters and soliciting donations. We inform, and we try to communicate in a way that feels personal and asks for – and truly values – input. We invite people to make a larger investment and to develop a deeper relationship with the organization’s mission and leaders.  And of course – we both ask for money! 

The Wired Wealthy study surfaced quite a bit of useful information about major donors and their online behavior.  Roughly two-thirds check out an organization’s web site before making a gift, they expect fresh and engaging content geared towards their interests and preferences, they expect a smooth, simple donation progress and want a year-end tax receipt emailed to them.  Major donors want accountability, reassurance that their philanthropic investment will have a measurable and significant impact, easy-to-find information, and access – to organizational leaders, their programs and plans, and metrics of effectiveness and success. 

So what are some ways we can use the online experience to identify, cultivate, solicit and steward existing and prospective major donors?  Here are some ideas.

  • Ask for large gifts online: include higher-dollar amounts when you solicit gifts through your web site, and personalize ask amounts to a person’s giving history.
  • Don’t just ask for large gifts – explain the need for them and the impact they’ll have: include “price points” that show how you’ll use larger gifts.  What could your organization achieve with a gift of $1,000? $5,000?
  • Create a section of your web site or a micro site specifically targeted to major donors: customize information to this audience – make current financial information readily available, include “exclusive” and in-depth program content, event invitations, and reports.
  • Provide program reports and update them monthly: provide quantitative data on program needs and impact, goals, progress and achievements
  • Post interactive content: tell stories and ask donors to provide their own, show videos, or post a “program cam” where visitors can see your programs in action!
  • Create a special email “stationary”: mimic the look of a one-on-one email from the President or a program officer; this could include a “forward” of an email from a program director or a “cc” to an executive assistant.
  • Acknowledge people who have already made significant gifts to your organization in the past year, with their permission, and ask others to join this “exclusive” club!

Your major donors are already on your web site, looking for reasons to engage with your mission and support your cause.  By combining each discipline’s expertise, tools and best practices, online marketers and major gifts officers can create meaningful conversations with major donors online, deepening those relationships and providing opportunities for more significant giving to support your mission. 

Read more about this topic in CDR Fundraising Group’s whitepaper, “Raise Big Money From Thousands of Your Closest Friends: Engaging Major Donors Online,” by Mikaela King and Nancy Withbroe, CFRE, January 2009.


From time to time, a guest blogger will appear on npENGAGE. Guest bloggers are industry experts contributing useful, relevant content to the conversation on npENGAGE. If you are interested in being a guest blogger, contact the editor.

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