At Veritus, before we start working with any client we look at their data. Mainly we’re looking at donor retention (donors who continue to give year over year) and value retention (the amount of revenue that is retained from the same donors year over year).
But there is another factor we keep our eye on. We also look for the number of donors who give the same gift amount year after year after year. For example, we might see a major donor file that has a few six-figure gifts, a couple of high five-figure gifts and then a large number of $5,000 gifts from donors who seem to “renew” at that level every year.
We especially see this if the nonprofit has some kind of “membership” or “renewal rate” as part of their offer to donors. It’s also not uncommon to find many low-dollar ($1,000-$4,999) major gifts with nonprofits who have built their donor file using direct-response fundraising.
So you may be asking, “What’s going on with this set of major donors? Why do these donors keep giving the same amount year over year? Are the donors stuck for some reason?”
What’s happened is that the nonprofit has essentially “trained” these donors to give that amount year after year. And because the nonprofit is grateful to get that gift each year, they get it in their heads that these donors don’t want to give any more than that.
Usually, these gifts either come from a regular direct-response solicitation or from a more traditional annual fund appeal the donor gets in the mail.
Any of this sound familiar to your situation?
Well, when we see this in our data assessment of the major gift file, we immediately see great opportunity. We know that for some reason the nonprofit has created for itself some kind of inhibiting story regarding these donors, and our job is to create a new story.
Typically when we ask the MGO who these donors are, they either don’t really know the donor, or they think they know the donor but have never really sat down with them to find out what their passions and interests are.
Here’s the thing: when we help the MGO start to develop a goal and strategic plan for that donor, and they start to meet face to face and understand what those passions and interests really are… amazing things start to happen.
Donors who once gave $5,000 every year start giving $25,000 gifts. Other donors who may have given $1,000 a year give $100,000 gifts… it’s actually quite a remarkable thing to witness.
Why does this happen? Because for the first time someone is actually listening to the donor – then that person matches what the donors are most passionate about with specific projects and programs the nonprofit has to offer. It’s amazing when this happens.
So if you have a caseload full of lower-end major gifts from donors who give these gifts year after year after year, I want you to consider the following:

  1. Ask the question, “Why does this donor give this amount every year?” Just asking the question forces you to investigate and request a meeting with this donor.
  2. Sit down with the donor. You’ve got a great reason to meet these donors. You want to thank them for their incredible faithfulness over the years, and you want to find out what they are passionate about. There is no pressure on you or the donor. All you want to do are those two things.
  3. Match passions and program. Once you find out what a donor is passionate about, challenge the donor to fund that passion. You’ll be amazed by the willingness of that donor.
  4. Run a wealth indicator screen over your donor base. If you need an added push, I suggest you run a wealth screen on your portfolio so you can see the capacity of these donors who have been giving lower-end major gifts. You’ll be blown away by how many of your donors have much more capacity than their current giving indicates.
  5. Ask, Ask, Ask. Create a revenue goal for each of these donors, make a plan, build a relationship, and then ask. The number one reason many of these donors don’t give more is because no one ever asked them for more. Start asking!

Today, you have a major donor file that has plenty of donors who give the same amount year after year after year. That’s a good thing. But you can turn a good thing into a great thing by knowing these donors and finally asking them to fund one of your projects and programs that they have a passion for.
Go ahead, your donors are waiting for you to ask.