Karen Kendrick • Senior Director of Learning • February 2022
Do More of What You Love
What do you love most about communicating with donors? 

I asked this question of 38 fundraisers on a Veritus Group Academy Live Community Q&A call yesterday.

Their length of experience in the field ranged from just a few months to 30 years, and their eyes lit up as they shared what they love the most

  • “Talking to a donor and really getting to know them and learning about their lives.”

  • “Seeing that in my communication, I’m building trust.”

  • “Having donors reach out to me when they need things and just to check on me because we know and care about each other.”

  • “Being creative in the ways I reach out and knowing I’ve surprised a donor and made them feel special. “

  • “Hearing the donor’s story and history with our organization, learning from them about where I work.”
  • “Really finding out the “why” behind their giving and what they are most passionate about.”
  • “Being there for the families when I lose my older legacy donors.”

  • “Knowing I’ve really helped a donor deepen their understanding of the program they care about with touchpoints, program visits (in person, zoom, video), and curious conversation.”
  • “When we have built enough trust where they invite me into their home and we can sit down and really get to know each other.”

  • “Being a listening ear to donors who are lonely and seeking connection.”

  • “Being curious and getting into deep conversations about the problem our mission solves and their heart for change. “

  • “Changing the donor’s expectations where they understand and are excited to be getting regular communication on things they care about in our work.” 

Does any of that light you up? This is the magic. This is why you are here and the gift you bring to your organization. This is relationship building, with you as the bridge between your donor’s heart and your organizational mission. 

But, so often, the time spent in this magic space is fleeting – only a moment here and there, rather than a constant experience. Why is that? Sometimes it’s external pressures to take on other tasks, like helping to plan an event, serving on too many committees, or getting pulled into too many board responsibilities. Maybe you’re bogged down with a caseload that has way too many donors who are not interested in a two-way connection with you. 

Or it simply could be because you haven’t yet built out an individual plan for each of your donors. In our years of experience working alongside fundraisers, we’ve found that when working full time (and not tasked with additional responsibilities), a major gift fundraiser can manage 150 qualified donors, period. These are 150 donors who do want a two-way connection with you. But that is only if you tier your donors, and make a goal and plan for each of them.  

You may have been thinking that a plan stifles creativity – it’s too rigid. How will you even know what you should be doing with a donor four months from now?! But, interestingly, it’s in having a clear plan for each donor which opens up space for creativity and ensures you are reaching out regularly and building that trust, which leads to deeper conversations and the kind of meaningful connection you love. 

OK, let’s break this down a bit more. If you don’t have a clear plan of what you are doing with every donor each month, your days may look like this…

  • There’s an upcoming event you’re helping with, or another committee with clear expectations, so you work on that pressing need.

  • You may call donors who just gave and say thank you, and answer emails from donors, but it is more about putting out fires rather than a thoughtful, planned approach to each individual donor.

  • You have all kinds of creative ideas for touchpoints for donors or ways you want to connect them to the mission, but never seem to get to them.

  • You find that you forgot to do important follow-ups with key donors, and it impacts their trust and experience with your organization. 

You may have had some of those experiences and more. It would be so awesome if you could do more of what you love because that is what feeds you, brings you energy, sustains you, and contributes to your organization’s mission by increasing giving. 
OK, so how does a plan become a game-changer? Imagine you come into work and can just open up your plan (we use a Donor Impact Portfolio to create that plan) where you can see exactly what you are planning to do with your caseload this month. And you can even sort the list according to touchpoints or passions and interests. This is what it can look like…

  • Part of your plan for each donor is to ensure you know their communication preference and their passions and interests. In your plan, you know exactly who you need to talk to about this and set up those conversations with them. That leads to great conversations and an ability to better serve those donors.

  • You can look at the month ahead and see 35 of your donors really care about your research program. You can plan ahead with the research department to create a meaningful touchpoint and send that out. It could be anything from a simple video thanks, video tour of the latest research, an article, or quick story of someone impacted by their work, or something you highlight off of your website. You send that touchpoint and then follow up and have meaningful conversations about what they learned or are still curious about.

  • You see in your plan that for 20 of your donors this month, you want to send a touchpoint related to something they care about outside of your mission. So, you set aside time to find articles, send a book on flowers with their favorite flower noted, find a card with elephants on it to send to them, or other creative ways to surprise them and show you care about them as a whole person. I have heard so many great stories from fundraisers about how it was this touchpoint that really changed their relationship with a donor and deepened the trust.

  • You know a top donor cares about a certain program, so you have in your plan to send touchpoints and connect them in meaningful ways to that program over time, leading up to an ask for support. All along the way, you remain curious, checking in about whether this is the direction they want to go, and follow up on questions they have. You are ensuring that you have spent the time to deepen their understanding before you make a request for a gift. This feels honoring and allows the donor to speak into the process. 

These are just a few examples of how a plan helps you get your arms around what your heart already wants: to better serve your donors. To learn about how to create these plans, our Certification Course for Major Gift Fundraisers takes you through a step-by-step process of how to tier, set goals, and create an individual plan for every donor using our Donor Engagement Plan. The next course begins on February 14th, and we would love to see you there.


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