6 Communication Principles that Build Trust with Major Donors

Every communication with a major donor should intentionally deepen the relationship between the donor and your organization.  A successful major gift officer will include each of these six trust-building principles in their daily engagement with donors:

The first principle of communication is that all interactions should be one-on-one and personalized, taking the donor’s preferences into account.  Major donors should not receive mass appeals and updates, but specific communication through proven channels.

Second, thank your donor immediately.  This is the single most important thing you can do after you receive a major gift.  And then say thank you again and again.

Third, let your donors know their gift made a difference. Celebrate what they’ve done. Report back on a regular basis. These “because of you” messages make it about the donor and not the organization. It demonstrates gratitude, respects their giving intent and shows them that you are achieving your mission. Per the U.S. Trust Study of High Net Worth Philanthropy, 54% of major donors do not know if their giving is having the intended impact.  You can significantly improve retention by ensuring your donors know the impact they have.

Fourth, build a concurrent cycle of communication that delivers the complete case for support. Include elements of the intellectual, emotional, and transformational case. By the time you get to the next request for support, the donor should understand the impact of their gift and how transformational it is in the lives of those you are serving.

Fifth, honor the relationship with your donors. Actively listen for overt or subtle changes in their areas of passion or preferred approaches to engagement.  Adjusting to these changes builds trust with the donor.

Sixth, be all about the donor.  Not every communication needs to highlight the organization or its impact.  In fact, doing so will cause the donor to start feeling like an ATM.  Instead, send a message from time to time that has nothing to do with the organization, and everything to do with the donor.  “Sally, wondering about your daughters dance competition… how did she do?”

Six Principles of Major Donor Communication

1.  Ensure all communication is one-on-one and personalized

2.  Thank the donor immediately

3.  Report how the donor’s gift made a difference

4.  Reinforce the complete case for support, over time

5.  Honor the relationship by actively listening

6.  Be all about the donor

One practical approach to implementing these principles are monthly touchpoints.  In between your “because of you” communications, stay in touch through a mix of different strategies to build a relationship with the donors that not only consists of information related to the organization and their giving, but also connects to them personally. Some tactics to consider:

  • Set an alert for notifications on things you’ve learned about your donor’s interests and send a news article to them.
  • If they’ve been recognized or honored for an achievement, send a note of congratulations.
  • Acknowledge their birthday or anniversary.
  • Connect with your donors on social media and comment on their posts.
  • Share a story from the “front line” which matches the donor’s interests and reinforces the message that their gift has made a difference.
  • Share an internal memo that addresses some problem or situation in the organization that the donor would be interested in. This gives the donor feel like an insider.
  • Send a gift of appreciation for their support.
  • Deliver an annual report or brief project report with a note.
  • Invite them to special events or updates without asking for a gift.
  • Share a letter or note of thanks from a person helped by your organization.
  • Schedule time to meet your donor in person.
  • Send a book that connects to the mission of the organization with a personalized note.
  • Ask organizational leaders or board members to write notes of thanks and/or updates.
  • Send an email along with a video clip that includes a success story or a solution to the problem your organization addresses.

Be intentional and creative in how you connect with your donors. Investing time to develop a personalized communication strategy with your major donors builds trust and deepens the relationship with the donors. The more they feel that you want to get to know them personally and help them achieve their goals for transforming lives, the easier it will be to make an ask in the future.

About Lisa Wolf

Lisa Wolf | VP of Consulting

Lisa is passionate about working with nonprofits that work hard every day to improve the lives of others. From 2005-2013, Lisa held senior leadership positions at CURE International, a medical ministry with hospitals and programs in 29 countries throughout the developing world. At CURE, she was responsible for creating the communications strategy for general, mid-range and major donors, as well as growing the organization’s general donor base through development of an online, radio and direct mail strategy. Lisa was also responsible for planning CURE’s major donor communications strategy and fundraising weekends that have raised more than $12 million over the last four years.

Connect with Lisa by clicking here.

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