“Fundraising” and is word that often strikes fear into the hearts of even the most committed nonprofit volunteers and staffers. Add “major donors” to “fundraising” and it can get even scarier!  This post is all about demystifying the part of major donor fundraising that can actually be the most enjoyable (even if it feels intimidating at first): talking with your donors face to face. Most volunteers and even some Executive Directors aren’t really sure what to say to their major donors when they meet with them 1:1.

So who are major donors?  Think of this group as your organization’s most loyal and invested supporters. That may mean they are a group of individuals each making $1,000+ gifts or $25,000+ gifts yearly depending on the size and scope of your organization. Major donors are also donors who have given the most cumulatively during your organization’s history.

Here are 3 questions your major donors will actually enjoy answering and staffers and volunteers should feel comfortable asking.

Just remember: what, why and how

  1. WHAT is it about our nonprofit’s work that excites you?
  2. WHY did you choose to support us with your first gift? WHY do you choose to keep supporting us year after year?
  3. HOW can we best steward your gift(s) and grow our relationship with you?

These questions are simple yet effective because by asking them you are demonstrating your interest in learning more about the donor and what motivates them to invest in your organization. You are showing authentic curiosity about them as a person, and you are asking for their input.

If you really listen to the answers to these questions the donor will tell you how they want to be engaged by your organization.  I see many nonprofits spend inordinate amounts of time creating fundraising events that don’t always translate into raising more major gift support sustainably for their organization. Nonprofits may think that donors want to be treated in ways that don’t often fit individual donor preferences. Some donors love coming to events. Others want to meet face to face with a board member or the Executive Director once a year. Others just want to read your newsletter and will give at year end despite the 8 solicitations you send throughout the year.

If you want to raise larger gifts from individuals sustainably year after year, you need to ask and act upon the answers to these questions from each of your top donors.  Your donors will tell you what they want and need from you, and it may not be what you expect.  If you ask these questions without asking for a gift at the same time, you will know so much more about how to ask your donor for a larger investment when the time is right.

In addition to asking these questions, remember that you can’t say thank you enough. Start your meeting with a thank you and end with a thank you.  That’s not so scary to do is it?  You, too, can start gaining experience as a major gift fundraiser armed with these questions, an appreciative outlook, and your own passion for your organization’s mission. Telling your own story about why you support the organization is often a great way to kick off or end a meeting with a donor.

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