Back in October, we hosted a live Q&A where we invited Steve Harrison, President of CDR Fundraising, and Jennifer Miller, Executive Creative Director of Moore, to join our team and discuss how direct response and major gifts can partner together to engage your donors in meaningful ways. It was incredibly well received, so I asked Steve and Jennifer to recap what they shared in the Q&A so you can use this as a guide throughout the year. Enjoy!
– Jeff

There is often a misconception that Direct Response and Major Gifts are at odds with each other. You hear stories about each department getting territorial about who they consider “their” donors or receiving credit for “their” gifts, rather than working in partnership to benefit the donor relationship.

It doesn’t have to be this way. Positive donor experiences are consistent ones. When Direct Response and Major Gifts work together, there is an incredible opportunity to deepen donor relationships and increase net revenue for your organization’s programs.

This partnership is important all the time, but especially during times of crisis (like an economic recession) or critical fundraising times (like year-end). Right now, our country is facing some significant economic challenges and shifts in philanthropic giving. Even before the pandemic, fewer people were giving and people were giving more on average. Those trends are continuing once again. Externally, inflation has soared, gas prices are holding, and mortgage rates have doubled.

With this kind of uncertainty around giving, how can you partner with your Direct Response team to make the most of your time and resources?

  • Connect with your team to identify, segment, and develop differentiated marketing journeys based on where benefactors fall in terms of inclination and capacity.
  • Inquire about tools for modeling opportunities for mid-level, donor-advised funds, and planned giving.
  • Continue to steward and cultivate donors through tailored outreach on the phone, in the mail, and through email and text messages.
  • Collect and analyze key insights from your interactions that inform future communications and share those across departments.
  • Work together to strengthen or improve your donor pipeline to Major Gifts and Planned Giving teams.

Having meaningful internal conversations with both teams is crucial regardless of the economic circumstances. We recommend having Direct Response and Major Gifts departments participate in strategy meetings together to understand the larger fundraising plan. During the meeting, look for opportunities to layer on top of the fundraising campaign. These meetings are also a valuable time to hear which stories are being pushed out across channels and to learn more about them. Be sure to identify the most compelling stories for your donors so you can retell them in a meaningful and valuable way.

Outside of times of crisis, there are many ways to use Direct Response as a tool for your work with major donors. Remember, direct mail is a valuable tool for donor communication. We highly recommend (and Veritus Group agrees) that you should only move a major donor out of the mail stream if they specifically ask. If you do, it could be detrimental to the relationship and giving from that donor.

Here are some creative ways you can use Direct Response to support your communication with major donors:

  • Tee up a campaign or mailing you think the donor will particularly be interested in by sending a quick video with a message like, “Watch out for something special we created just for you.”
  • Think of the unexpected. What can you do to show you’re really thinking of a major donor in a way that stands out?
  • If you have the ability to set aside a stack of mailings for major donors, attach a paper clip with your business card or a note to the letter. That paper clip says, “this was personally touched by someone.”
  • Include a handwritten note on the outside of envelopes for a direct mail campaign: “Thank you, Steve!”
  • Share something of value. Send links to content and stories you know matter to them specifically. Sending a note like, “Thought you’d like to see this!” shows the donor that you’re thinking of them beyond their ability to make a gift.
  • Keep copies of newsletters and impact reports and have them handy for when visiting or speaking with a major donor. Send it as a follow-up.
  • Use the fundraising campaign as an opportunity to learn more about the donor’s passions and interests or explore how you can do better to help them understand what’s going on at your organization.

Working in partnership across departments creates a culture of learning, understanding, and appreciation for all fundraising disciplines. This kind of culture is invaluable as you work to achieve your mission, especially during challenging times.

As we continue in a season of economic uncertainty, we encourage you to lean into your partnership with your Direct Response team and work together to find more meaningful opportunities to connect with your donors.

This is not the time to pull back or isolate. This is a time to strengthen your bonds and work together to achieve your mission.

– Steve and Jennifer

Steve Harrison is the President of CDR Fundraising. He is an industry veteran and proven leader with 30+ years of direct response marketing experience in both non-profit and commercial sectors. Steve is responsible for client growth, strategic direction, and meeting partner goals and objectives. Previously, Steve served as chief client officer at One & All (formerly Russ Reid/Grizzard), managing five client verticals. He has worked with American Cancer Society, American Red Cross, The Salvation Army, Habitat for Humanity, Mercy Ships, Operation Smile, World Vision, Paralyzed Veterans of America, and many other national non-profit organizations. Steve joined CDR in June 2019.

Jennifer Miller, Executive Creative Director at Moore, is an award-winning creative director who has worked in nearly every fundraising channel for hundreds of nonprofits during her 25+ year career. She uses authentic storytelling to drive emotion and action across channels and audiences. She develops creative based on time-tested direct response principles and has raised millions of dollars for animal welfare organizations, food banks, cancer centers, children’s hospitals, social and human services agencies, child-focused nonprofits, international child relief organizations, and many more.