clock with words time to upgrade donorYou have a donor who has given $10,000 every year for the past 5 years. What do you do to upgrade a donor to the next tier?
This question is probably one of the most-asked questions Richard and I get from clients and readers.
People are throwing up their hands and saying, “What do I do to upgrade my donor?”
Well let me say first of all that (just like in ALL major gift work) it takes persistence, patience and courage to make it happen.
Right now (today actually), I’m in the middle of analyzing 30 different organizations’ potential major gift files. And over the last eight years, Richard and our team and I have analyzed hundreds of these files.
In those files we always see a group of donors (I’m not talking about pledged gifts) who give the same (or very similar) amounts every year. These are awesome donors, yet we know that they have much more potential. Here is what you can do:

  1. Research them. All good MGOs do research. You might have the luxury of having someone on your team to do this work, but usually the MGO has to do the research herself. Find out the origin of the initial gift, and learn who this donor is, and what his capacity is to give more. I’m just going to say this right now: research is always (no matter what type of donor) going to be your first move. This may mean checking with staff, board, executive team, Google, Zillow, etc., to find out how they are connected to you and to other organizations.
  2. Go talk to them. I know you might be thinking, “duh,” but let me tell you I’ve talked to so many MGOs who, when I ask, “have you met with them, do you know their passions and interests?” they immediately look down at the floor in shame. Typically the number one reason why you have so many caseload donors who give the same every year is because you are relying on something other than a face-to-face solicitation to obtain that gift. You are getting it either through the mail or on the donor’s own initiative.
  3. Create a dynamic offer. Another barrier we see for MGOs is that they don’t spend enough time matching the passions and interests of the donor to the programs or projects of the organization. In order to get donors to do more, you have to find more for them to fund. To take a $10K donor per year to a $50K gift, you have to present her with a project that inspires her. That takes your time and effort. If you don’t spend that kind of time and effort, you’ll always get that $10K gift… well, maybe. Use this mantra: great offer, great gift.
  4. Have courage. I know you are enamored with that recurring gift. You might be tempted to “leave it alone” and just allow it to keep going. That act would be the opposite of being “donor-centered.” Remember, these donors love what you do. If you had an incredible opportunity for them to fund and make a massive impact on the world, why would you withhold it from that donor? Are you afraid that the donor will be upset that you are asking for more? Gosh, they won’t feel that way if you’ve done your homework.

Now I’m assuming you know that for this kind of donor you have to do this “upgrading” face to face. Whether it’s you, the CEO, or a board member, asking someone to make a significant leap in her giving requires looking the donor in the eye and asking her to make a significant gift.
So these are some concrete ideas for you to upgrade the recurring giving of your donors. I wish I could tell you it was easy… it’s not. But the beauty of all your effort is that it works. Yes, it really works. Stick with it.
In our next entry, Richard will write about getting high-value donors to make the ultimate upgrade – to a transformational gift. And we would love to know about your own upgrade stories and the strategies it took to get those great gifts.