Fundraising Major Gifts

Take Time to Listen

When you are making a face-to-face ask for a major gift, one of the fundamental rules is “listen to the prospective donor.”

But it’s not only in major gift “asks” that listening is so important. You should also be listening to your older donors when they ask to be taken off your mailing list or indicate that they can no longer support your work.

These are the indicators that they need to be reassured that their past support was sincerely appreciated; and that you’d still like to send them your newsletter so that they can stay in touch with your work.

It is also an opening to begin talking about your bequest program and how it provides another easy way for them to help preserve your organisation’s work – which they have supported over the years.

Listening to your donors also gives you one of the finest opportunities to grow your fundraising income. The key is the donor survey . . . a short questionnaire sent either to all your donors; a representative cross-section; or just to your major donors.

The survey should only be one page with a few key questions. Multiple-choice answers always make responding easier.

It needs a heading along the lines of “Please help us serve you better.” It could also have a covering letter from your CEO or Board Chair to encourage participation — a stronger urge to donors to take a little time to help you look after their interests, and treat them as friends, which they are to you. This is one occasion where a reply paid return envelope (rather than one that requires a stamp) is probably worth the cost. (editor’s note: you may also ask questions electronically; either through your website or through the various email surveys that are now available).

The types of questions you ask may vary, but here are some examples:

1. What aspects of our work most interest you? (List all your areas of services and have a check-box for each and another for “Send me more information on this . . .”)

2. Please tell us what aspect of our work motivated you to give to us/Why you choose to support our work? (List possibilities and a blank space for other reasons)

3. How often would you like to hear from us? Describe your direct mail program and let them choose from “too many.” “too few.” Add an option to receive only specific mailings.

4. Suggest that you’d like to occasionally telephone them to thank them. Give them an option of supplying their home, work or mobile telephone number and where they’d preferred to receive a call.

5. Ask if they have an email address and whether they would like to receive your newsletters and other communications via e-mail?

6. Ask whether they have thought about making a bequest to your organisation? Would they like more information about bequests?

7. Ask them to help strengthen your cause by providing names and address of friends or family whom they know might also wish to hear more about your cause or become supporters. Allow space on the reverse for names and addresses.

8. Offer them the opportunity to raise questions or concerns about your work.

9. Finally, leave a space for other comments or suggestions.

You may wish to include a range of groupings for them to indicate age (example: 50-64, 65+), but this should be strictly optional.

Responses to this type of survey can be as high as 25% — high enough to make the answers statistically valid. If you don’t get a good response first time around, it may be worthwhile sending the questionnaire to non-responders a second time, with another note of encouragement spelling out how useful the answers you received were.

A careful analysis of the responses will paint a picture of your donor’s likes and dislikes, and will give you solid ideas about how better to look after their interests and which approaches to use in the future.

You may well learn that segmenting your file into different interest groups might be the way to go. And you should certainly learn whether it will be worth your while increasing the use of the telephone or e-mail in communicating with your donors.

Al of this can only lead to better donor retention, stronger donor relationships and increased income for your organisation.