You have them in your portfolio right now: donors who have made a multi-year pledge. Some may have committed to a gift over 3 years, and others 5 years. Some have given to either a long-term project or a capital campaign.
Are you doing all you can to get the donor to continue to fall in love with your mission?
You may be scratching your head. “But Jeff, these donors have committed a large sum of money over many years; why would I have to help these donors fall in love with our mission?”
My answer is that I’ve seen hundreds of cases where multi-year pledge donors go virtually unnoticed, and either the donor doesn’t finish his committed pledge, or after the pledge is fulfilled, he never gives again.
Changing your attitude by lessening your communication and the touches you make with a donor once they make a multi-year pledge will dramatically hurt your relationship with the donor – and it could do permanent damage.
So why does this happen? I’ll tell you. The MGO, the Development Director or the CEO just forgets these folks. The mentality is that you have them “locked in” for a long period, so you don’t have to worry about them. “Let’s move on to other donors” is the mindset.
Richard and I believe that once you have solicited a multi-year gift from a donor, the hard work is just beginning. In fact, we don’t like the term “steward” or “stewarding” very much to refer to the work that comes next. It puts the MGO in a more passive mindset. Instead, we like to see an attitude where you ask, “how are we going to serve this donor outrageously over the next 3-5 years so that she will be inspired to make an even greater impact to our organization?”
So to really serve that multi-year pledge donor, here are some tips for you to keep the donor engaged with the mission of your organization:

  1. Celebrate the pledge properly. Working with a donor to make a multi-year pledge can take a lot of time and work. I’ve talked to MGOs who have worked so long to get the pledge that by the time the donor says “Yes” they are wiped out, and they don’t celebrate the gift well. Make sure that you have a proper thank you planned. Perhaps it’s a meeting with the CEO, or you invite the donor and her family to a celebratory event. Whatever you do, make sure you celebrate that commitment right up front.
  2. In the pledge agreement, agree on project or program updates… then exceed them. I’ve seen pledge agreements where the organization agrees to send a written update or report yearly. Yearly? Really? Is that serving the donor? Not in our book. Perhaps it’s twice a year for a more formal report, then it’s another 2-4 times a year to check in by doing something creative with multi-media to show progress. If it’s a capital campaign, you have it easy. Be creative with the donor and surprise her. Remember, donors want to know their gifts are making a difference. Show them as often as you can.
  3. Plan on at least two face-to-face visits with that donor per year — and more if the donor actually wants more. This shows the donor that you still care about their involvement, that you seek their input and advice.
  4. If you have events, make sure they are invited — and that they still pay above and beyond their pledge, unless they have in their pledge agreement that part of their pledge includes some events.
  5. Have your CEO or Executive Director reach out to the donor — twice a year by phone or face-to-face. This will help the donor know that leadership values them.
  6. Continue thanking them. When the next pledge payment comes in, don’t just send a regular thank you receipt letter. Gosh, I’ve seen this happen too many times. Treat the gift as if it were new again. Remember, the donor could always NOT fulfill that pledge. Treat those payments like gold.
  7. Look for other opportunities for the donor to fund. That’s right! He may have a multi-year pledge, but that doesn’t mean he won’t fund something else he has a passion for. I’ve seen this work very effectively, and the donors actually appreciate it. Why? Because they know you are “looking out for them” and presenting them with opportunities to make more of a difference.
  8. Before a pledge is fulfilled, start working on the next one. Too many times, MGOs wait until the pledge is actually fulfilled before talking to a donor about another gift. Why? If it’s a three-year pledge, start the process in year 2. If it’s a 5-year pledge, start cultivating that gift in year 3.

Remember, your multi-year pledge donor loves your organization. Your job from day one of that pledged gift is to help make her feel great about it, and to show her how she has made a difference with her gift.
This relationship is a long-term one for your organization, whether you remain as their contact or not. If you can think of a multi-year pledge as one that could turn into a multi-generational pledge to your organization, THEN you will have the right attitude and mindset to serve your donor well.