With travel stopped or significantly curtailed due to the pandemic, major gift fundraisers are finding they have much more time.

And this has really thrown some them for a loop. “Success” used to be defined by travel, visits made, and money raised. So they’ve been calling donors, but they’re wondering what else they can do now. “What do we do with all this time?”

What do we do with all this time?

I’ve been suggesting four things major gift fundraisers can do after they’ve called all the people they’re regularly assigned to.

  1. Call deeper and wider: Call more donors – people who have given in the last three years and people who have given less than what is normally a “major gift” in your organization. (Isn’t that label weird? “Major”? All gifts are important!).
  2. Call your program people: Now is a great time to build relationships with people in your organization that you don’t normally have time for. Learn what they do. Share with them how amazed donors are with the quality of their work
  3. Study: Really. Create a study group with some of your team or some from other nonprofits. Study fundraising, decolonizing wealth, storytelling, or people skills. There’s a lot of great books and videos out there. Many free or freely available in the library. (There are also low-cost programs like The Nonprofit Academy too!)
  4. Review your strategy: Too often as fundraisers we get thrown into the deep end and told to raise money without taking a step back to see if we’re doing it strategically. So consider using some of this time to review your strategy. Ask yourself questions like. How is your donor retention before the pandemic? If you have territories, are you managing them appropriately or should they be reassigned? Do you have an onboarding sequence for new donors?

But I started wondering what others were saying, so I asked consultants and practitioners, here is what they suggest!

Pearl: “Look at how you can grow the pool of prospective major gift donors. Take time to review lists of donors who have given consistently over the years – especially those with an increase in giving or frequency. Give a call or send an email. Structure your call or email around a question. For example, ‘I’m trying to figure out how to proceed with our annual gala. It won’t be ‘in-person’ but I want to find a way to recreate the community aspect of the event. What are your thoughts.’ Or, ‘We’re restructuring program x, and I would appreciate learning your thoughts on how we should proceed.’ One thing I wouldn’t recommend – too many contacts with donors who are not responding. Remember: there’s a lot going on right now. Just because a donor respond to a call doesn’t mean you are not a priority. This may just not be the right time.”

Mel: “Three points:
(1) Have you given your major donors a status update to let them know where you are today? Not an ask, but an update.
(2) Make sure the data you have on your major donors is up to date and correct.
(3) Take time to talk with those who are accessible to learn their priorities.”

Mel & Pearl Shaw

Saad & Shaw - Comprehensive Fund Development Services

“The things that instantly came to mind were:

(1) Write (as in compose handwritten pieces) personal, thoughtful thank you notes. It’s such a basic thing, but one that often gets compromised when things are busy. We’ll still hand sign the letter but use a printed letter…or, worse, a standard letter with just the name and giving details changed. Let the donors know their gifts are valued and how important they are to the mission. Consider including an insert that further underscores that sentiment–maybe a photo of the initiative or program they made possible or, if permitted, a beneficiary whose life they changed.

(2) Call your program staff colleagues. Ask them about their work. Ask them what they get excited about, what gets them up in the morning. Ask them what keeps them up at night. Ask them to share stories. Ask questions about the stories to get better stories. Write the stories down. Establish a story bank, if you don’t already have one. These questions are the questions donors have. They want to know how your mission comes to life through the work. They want to hear about those the mission directly touches. They want to know how their gift makes that happen. To use an analogy from Ghostbusters, you might be the Gatekeeper but your program colleagues are the Keymasters and you need them with you to truly unleash your donors’ passion for your mission.

(3 )If you need a third, it’s clean up your room! I mean, clean up your data. 🙂 Are records up to date? Basic demographics current, relationships (internal & external) noted, interests recorded, all recent activity and contacts tracked? Did you note those four phone calls and the handwritten note in their record? If you’ve been procrastinating on spending time in your database/CRM, there’s no better time than now to get to work! If you’ve been on top of it (congratulations and I love you), then use the time to learn from your data and look for patterns. Do certain donors seem to give at specific intervals? Do your major donors have any shared characteristics or behaviors that might help you identify the next wave of donors who may potentially succeed them?”

Heather R. Hill

Chair, Rogaré

“What I’ve been doing is scheduling a monthly email (not through an email marketing client, but my personal email) that serves as a tiny impact report. Given that it is a personal email, I have the opportunity to empathize with the donor—these are tough times for everyone—and include messaging that lets them know what their donations have been doing in the previous month. In order to get donors to read, I spend time crafting a good subject line, like ‘It was quite month. You’ll want to read this.’ Or ‘You’re not going to believe this update!’

“We also had a great Zoom presentation with a major donor. She said she was used to meeting on Zoom these days and was very appreciative to be presented a report on what her prior donation was able to accomplish.

“During this period, before the giving season and in a pandemic, my team and I are hyper-focused on stewardship. I recommend this approach for others as well.”

Marco Corona

CEO, One80 Place

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