Whether you are building your principal gifts program or creating a new program, securing larger outright gifts requires a shift into donor-centered, relationship-based fundraising. An important step in this process is to ensure that your larger donors feel that they are being generous within an environment of appreciation.
Many charitable entities, particularly those primarily focused on direct response fundraising, approach stewardship in general as a politeness or an IRS obligation, and they simply meet the minimum requirements.
They have no system in place to show special appreciation for larger donors.
When I speak to such organizations, I may hear, “Our donors don’t need special recognition.” That’s an unfortunate attitude, since those same donors do receive special treatment from other charities they support at higher levels, and the vast majority of donors respond favorably to such treatment.
If your thank-you methods are the same for your $10,000-per-year donors as they are for your $100 donors, you’re telling them that you appreciate them equally, and that’s simply not the case. When supporters with financial capacity see that other donors who give more are appreciated, they are more likely to self-identify among their philanthropic peers and increase their giving levels.
I've seen donors go from three-figure annual giving levels to $10,000 or more largely because of an improved donor appreciation system. When asked why they increased their giving, donors will say something to the effect of, “I didn't know other people were giving at that level to this organization.”
A stewardship system involving recognition for higher levels of giving is not only good ethics, it is also a powerful and cost-effective fundraising tool in itself. Once launched, your recognition system sends its positive messaging year-round while you go about your business.
Your methods of appreciation should be program-related and should fit comfortably within your charity’s culture. The most common recognition methods use total annual giving as the measuring rod, because that captures both amount and frequency of giving within a specific time frame. Lifetime giving is another dimension to acknowledge, rewarding loyalty over time, and is especially effective in cultivating legacy gift prospects.
Create a structure, a “recognition code,” that provides increasing donor benefits based on giving level. Make donors aware of this system and follow the code. The intention is to create goodwill, and a donor should never be disappointed about anything at any time. Always err on the side of the donor.
Of course, upgrading your donors also requires a solicitation program that encourages ongoing increases. Donors will begin to fill that middle tier of your pyramid, and provide a platform from which you can seek truly transformational gifts.
Once you have established your environment of appreciation, you are well along on the path to transforming your charity into a healthy, relationship-based fundraising organization.
About the author:
Bruce Makous, ChFC, CAP, CFRE, is director of development of the ACLU of Pennsylvania and a consultant with Barnes & Roche, Inc. He has been a professional fundraiser for 30 years, serving human services, education, healthcare, culture, and grant making organizations. He is a published author and frequent speaker on many development topics, and is co-author of the chapter on “The Ask” in the award-winning textbook, Donor-Centered Planned Gift Marketing by Michael Rosen. He is a past PPP national board member, and has been recognized by The Nonprofit Times as one of the “Most Influential and Effective Fundraisers” in the US. For more about this topic or other assistance with your charity’s fundraising efforts, visit Barnes & Roche, Inc.