Years ago, I was hired to launch a nonprofit’s online communications and digital fundraising program, but there was a lot of resistance to incorporating major donors in the online program. Like many organizations, we worked in silos and the Director of Major Gifts wanted nothing to do with online strategy because it wouldn’t count towards her goal. Fast forward several years— most nonprofits are now using digital channels to engage with donors, but there is still resistance (or maybe it’s a lack of understanding) to building a major gifts strategy online.
It’s time that we address the concerns and discuss the variety of ways major donors can be cultivated online. Let’s get started with these three tactics:
1. Create Personalized Online Fundraising Appeals
Brace yourself for this: you can solicit major donors online. I don’t recommend this for larger solicitations, but for donors around the $1,000-$5,000 mark, online is a perfectly acceptable solicitation channel. The key to success is personalization—segmenting and targeting major donors with content specific to them. It’s not about creating entirely new content or telling a different story, but you must acknowledge the existing relationship you have with the donor and, more importantly, the kind of impact they can have (or have had) through their gifts. Blackbaud’s latest wealth research shows that major donors care about the individual story, but they also want to understand the long term impact of their investment in the mission.
- Personalize the donation forms and autoresponders for major donors so that the headline, opening statement, and donation amounts, reflect messaging for specifically for them.
- Depending on your technology, you can set up a donation form to enable donors to make pledges. Similar to how monthly giving is managed online, a pledge donation will charge the major donor’s credit card each quarter until the pledge is paid in full.
2. Offer Digital Engagement Activities for Major Donors
The beauty of engagement with your major donors is that you already know what motivates them to give! You can use the data in your CRM and the information from your major gifts officers to personalize digital engagement efforts and offer activities. Before identifying an activity, discuss what drives major donors to give to your organization—what is special about your mission and programs that calls people to support the organization? What activities can you create around that motivation? Once you have the answer, create special opportunities like:
- DIY fundraising campaigns. This type of activity will empower major donors to serve as virtual or in-person ambassadors. This not only gives them a chance to take on a leadership role for your organization, but it encourages them to engage their networks to also give.
- Guest Blogging. Invite major donors to contribute their ideas, thoughts, or passion for your cause via a blog or article for an e/newsletter. Incorporating major donor voices in your content diversifies your content and demonstrates all of the different people behind your cause.
- Video Stories. Have major donors record special messages about the importance of your cause (and why they support it) to share with your board, donors, and those you serve.
Offering opportunities for your major donors to engage beyond the gift is a great way to reinforce their connection to your cause and humanize the giving experience. This is a way for you to put a face to the donors behind the crucial dollars the fund your work.
3. Create Online Stewardship Strategies for Major Gifts
I love when organizations use digital channels to thank and steward donors, but it’s time to take it to the next level by using these stewardship tactics with major donors. I suggest that nonprofits set up a page on their website with content like:
- Profiles in giving
- Videos from leadership and recipients
- Infographics on impact and ways to get involved
It’s important to keep content consumable. Videos should be short(personally I won’t watch anything longer than 3-4 minutes) and reports should be brief. Remember to keep the content fresh by adding something new every couple of months, at minimum. One easy way to do keep content current is to sync your Facebook or Twitter feed to your page.
If you don’t have the resources to create and maintain a donor page, then don’t do it. Instead, showcase impact through mission moments by setting up quarterly emails that feature client stories, profiles from donors, messages from leadership, and program reports. Be sure to include a link in the email so people can share it on social.
Storytelling tip I attended a terrific session at the Bridge Conference around creating more authentic content with citizen storytellers. The presenters recommend that when possible, have your supporter create the story. When putting together a donor profile video, have the donor speak for themselves, if you are writing a program success story, ask the recipient to write it (with your help of course).
Host virtual stewardship events for major donors:
- Meetings should be led by leadership like the CEO, Executive Director or a Board member
- Keep the events short, 30 minutes at most
- Cover topics important to your major donors like program success stories, the greater impact of the mission and plans for the future
- Include visuals like slides or a short video to play during the event
- Practice! Have several staff attend a dry-run event where you test playing the video, sharing slides, and muting attendees (make sure people are muted upon entry and that you know how to mute and unmute attendees). Be sure to involve all speakers in the dry-run so they are familiar with the technology and process.
You can hold these virtual stewardship events twice a year—once at the beginning of the year (around February) and once towards the end of the (October or November). Send invitations via email with a registration link so that you can track attendance. Depending on your resources and number of donors, I would also send a paper invitation—a nicely crafted letter with a live signature and a personalized PS is ideal. Include the URL for the registration page and a telephone number for donors who prefer to call call-in. If you don’t have the technology to host a conference webinar, talk to your Board members and ask if they will sponsor the event by allowing you to use their conference technology.
Move campaign stewardship reports online.
In my former life as a major gifts officer, I handled disaster fundraising for the American Red Cross and we loved our disaster donor stewardship reports. If your organization does any large-scale campaign like a capital campaign or funding for a new program, move your stewardship reports online and send electronic updates at 3 months, 6 months, and 12 months. If you are concerned about older donors that prefer print communications, work with a designer to create something you can print on a standard piece of paper or on a jumbo postcard that you can send via direct mail, but I would still include a message in the print materials that encourages supporters to go online for more information.
These are just a few ideas to take your major donor program online. Before doing anything, discuss amongst your team what makes sense for your organization and, realistically, what resources you have to commit. To do anything right, you need the resources to set up the activities, time for testing, a plan, and people to manage it.
Measure your online strategies for an entire year
Identify key milestones and metrics and have a plan to monitor those activities. Major donor relationships don’t happen overnight and enhancements to your stewardship program will take time, allow for a donor life cycle to pass before deciding what worked and what didn’t. At the end of the year, look at the metrics to evaluate progress and hold a focus group to gather feedback from donors.
Finally, don’t exclude monthly donors or middle donors from your online fundraising activities. Many of these donors have the capacity and interest to give more, but they need engagement to move them up the ladder of giving. Many of the activities suggested above will help you position the greater impact people can have through bigger investments in your mission.