in between.We’ve always felt that a donor who makes a pledge over multiple years is both a blessing and a curse for a major gift officer. It’s a blessing because you have “locked in” a certain gift amount over a period of years. But we’ve also seen it as a curse because it’s now easy to 1) forget about the donor, and 2) not inspire the donor to give an additional gift in the middle of their pledge.
The attitude we’ve seen from many major gift officers who have donors in the midst of a pledge is not only one of relief that they don’t have to “worry” about that donor for a while, but also a certain level of neglect now that they have their donor “locked in” for the next 3-5 years.
This is definitely not the attitude or position we want to see when you have a major donor who has made a multi-year pledge.
Instead, here is how to think about your donors who have made pledges:

  1. Do you really understand the donor’s passions and interest? Many times, you could have a donor in your portfolio who has made a campaign pledge. And you assume that it’s the campaign they’re passionate about. Don’t make that assumption. Keep pursuing understanding who your donor really is, so you’re always aware of matching those passions and interests with your organization’s projects and programs.
  2. Be consistent and surprising about reporting back on impact. I know that sounds contradictory, but it’s not. First, don’t wait for a long time to pass to give an update on the donor’s pledge. Create a regular impact report for your donor all along the way. Second, be creative, and in between your regular impact reports, surprise your donor with updates about what their pledge is funding.
  3. Always think of yourself in cultivation mode with a donor. Typically, Richard and I run into major gift officers who say, “Hey, I’m in stewardship mode with a number of donors in my portfolio, so I’m not really worried about them.” Ugh. Wrong approach. We like to tell major gift officers that the moment the donor agrees to a multi-year pledge, you’re trying to deepen that relationship for either another gift or another commitment – either during their pledge or at the end of their current pledge. (Tweet it!)
  4. Ask for another gift. Yes, you heard me right. Look, if you know your donor’s passions and interests and something comes along that you know they would be interested in, why would you deny them the opportunity? I have story after story of donors who, in the middle of a campaign, also gave to another project. If you present the opportunity correctly, the donor will not be offended that you’re asking for another gift, because they trust you. Obviously, this is predicated on the fact that you’re properly thanking and reporting back on their current pledge and that there’s a match between what you’re asking for and their passions and interests.
  5. Thinking long-term. Let’s say your donor has made a five-year commitment to a campaign – do NOT wait until the end of that campaign to start cultivating another gift. This goes back to what I said in point #3. What we would advise is that starting in the third year of a five-year pledge, you actively start working with the donor on the “next” significant opportunity. If you know your donor well, the relationship is solid and you have built a strong level of trust with that donor, this will serve you and the donor well.

The big point we want to make about your donors who have made a multi-year pledge is this: don’t lose your energy with them and feel you can now coast in that relationship. It’s the opposite.
Now that they have made a pledge, you should ramp up your efforts to build an even stronger relationship. This will build a stronger level of trust with your donor. There’s nothing better than that.
Jeff