What Do Donors Want? Sometimes You Need to Show Them

graphic with handwriting what do you donors wantThere is a tension inherent in being a major gift officer. On one hand you need to listen to your donor, respect his requests, honor him by understanding his passions and interests… in short, be donor-centered.

On the other hand, sometimes your job is to challenge a donor who says she is only interested in one thing your organization does – challenge her to consider something else. Or inspire your donor to consider a much larger gift than she told you she always wanted to give.

Can challenging your donor to do more and consider things that are seemingly “not in their interest” also be donor-centered?

I believe so.

A few years ago a major gift officer told me the story of a donor that was in his portfolio. The donor sent a check every year for $10,000 to continue to endow a chair, and he said never to contact him. The donor was adamant about it… “I only want to give to this endowment fund, and I don’t want you to contact me.”

In researching this donor, the major gift officer found out this particular donor had incredible capacity, and that in addition to giving to his charity (a large health organization), he also gave a lot of money to the arts, particularly to organizations that have to do with music.

The MGO learned that his organization was going to be the beneficiary of an exclusive black tie dinner and concert in their city. The MGO knew that this donor would probably be interested, but he wasn’t sure if or how to approach this donor.

We ended up developing a strategy that would “ease into” the information about the event. We started with a personal, handwritten note. The MGO acknowledged that the donor didn’t want to be contacted, but because he knew of his love of music, he just thought he might be interested.

Within a day or so of sending that personal note, the MGO received a phone call from that donor, extremely excited. To make a long story short: Not only did that donor attend the event, but it started a renewed relationship with that organization where the donor eventually ended up giving a seven-figure gift for a new program they were starting that had nothing to do with an endowment fund!

Now, had the MGO “honored” the wishes of that donor, that large gift and other gifts that led up to it would never have been realized. The MGO definitely took a risk in contacting the donor, but because the donor felt “known” – and because the MGO was gracious in his note – the donor responded positively.

Richard and I have stories like this about other donors who have said one thing, but when MGOs have used tact and humility, the donors reacted positively, contrary to their original stated intentions.

I’m not advocating that you do this with all your donors. This is where your intuition and the “art” of major gifts come into play. But for some of your donors, inspiring them to consider something new or different may just be the strategy you need to unlock the grace of that donor’s giving.



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