We all create stories about who we think people are, based on either a snap judgment or seeing from afar their history of behavior.

Sometimes that can be helpful to us, and other times it’s quite hurtful. I think as fundraisers we do this quite a bit. You have a donor in your portfolio who may be what you’d call a “C-level donor” who gives a low four-figure gift every year in December. The tendency is to say to yourself, “She’s probably never going to do more than that, but I’m going to keep her in my portfolio because she’s at least consistently giving every year.”

There may even be a note in her donor record from a previous major gift officer who said they had a quick conversation on the phone with her and she “just loves” everything your organization does.

So there the donor sits, giving their “major gift” every year – and no one really pays much attention to her.

I see these donors in non-profit databases all the time. Every year they give $1,000 or $5,000 and it’s always the same. When I ask the MGO what the donor is passionate about, the MGO shrugs and says they’ve never really talked to that donor. I’m thinking, “Then why are they in your portfolio?”

Last week, one of our Client Experience Leaders sent our team the following story about a MGO they are working with. I’m protecting names and the organization here, but other than that, this is the story:

  • An MGO has been working for this organization for 16 months. In late 2019 she qualified a donor who typically gave $1-2K as an annual year-end gift for a number of years, and she had never connected with anyone from the organization.

    In the MGO’s first phone call with this donor, after asking what the donor’s passions and interests were and what specifically they liked about the organization, the donor revealed that they really have a heart for refugees. They asked the MGO a lot of questions about what the organization did for refugees versus other organizations.After the conversation, the MGO sent the donor a really detailed email with more information about how the organization really works to serve refugees. Following that email, the donor sent in a gift of $15,000 in March (and said “use it wisely”).

    So, the MGO continued to steward this donor throughout the year, especially sharing information on different programs and projects related to their work with refugees. In the fall, the MGO invited the donor to a Town Hall with the program staff of a specific country they worked in with refugees. The donor couldn’t attend but was thrilled to be asked, and the MGO sent the donor a recording of the Town Hall. The donor sent in another $10K after that (in October). Then, in December, the MGO heard from the donor’s spouse that they’re making an additional gift of $20K, but that will likely be next year’s gift and they’re just giving it early. (So in the course of a calendar year, this donor went from giving $1-2K to $45K).

    At the end of this last week, the organization was about to make an announcement publicly that they’ll be working to help with vaccine distribution in the countries where they’re working. And, for the first time ever, the leadership realized it was a good idea to allow the major gifts team to share this information with their donors in advance of it going out publicly (another victory for the program!). So the MGO shared this information with her donors.

    This past Monday, the same donor (who has been giving to refugees) calls the MGO again with more questions about vaccine distribution, and how they are particularly concerned about refugees having access to the vaccines.

    The MGO answers all the donor’s questions and promises to share more information as it’s available. The donor calls back on Tuesday to say they are directing another $50K to be used to help vaccinate refugees. (This is after their $20K year-end gift that was supposed to be “next year’s gift.”)

What a story, huh? So, here’s a donor who for a long time has been consistently giving $1,000 to $2,000 a year. No one from the organization has ever reached out to them, except this particular MGO, who took the time to understand what the donor’s particular passions and interests are as it relates to their organization – and now the donor unleashes their giving to donate $95K in one year!

I know that Richard and I are constantly pounding away on urging you to find out what your donor’s passions and interests are, but this story is a clear example of why you need to take the time to get to know your donors. Donors are not in love with your organization. They are passionate about specific things you do. They are waiting for you to ask what those specific things are. (Tweet it!)


PS – We’re offering a new online training on Discovering Your Donor’s Passions and Interests, starting on Monday! And we’re offering it as “pay what you can” – even as low as $25. I hope you join us!