Major Donor Relationship Planning: How to Tell If You Have a Close Relationship With Your Donor

strong major donor relationships are important for fundraising

major donor relationship planning

Major donor relationships planning can be challenging!

We find that fundraisers often don’t take the time to understand their donors’ interests and motivations. But don’t plunge into an ask until you do your homework.

Do you really know your donor? Or are you just guessing about your donor’s interest and enthusiasm for your work?

Here’s a fab guest post from our senior consultant Kathryn Gamble (she JUST got her PhD!!): 

One of my favorite movies is Love Actually – great cast and some classic scenes. 

Remember the iconic scene where the U.S. president’s remarks about “the special relationship” between Great Britain and the United States?  

Hugh Grant, as the prime minister of Great Britain, responds,

“I love that word relationship. It covers all manners of sins, doesn’t it?”

So how does this relate to major gift fundraising? 

Let me ask you – do you think your relationships with your donors are special? 

Or is the word relationship just covering “all manners of sins” we may be making in our effort to raise major gifts?

What do we really mean by relationship in the context of major gift fundraising? 

Let’s start with who the parties are in the major gift relationship.  There are three parties – yes, three.

  1. The Donor
  2. The Organization
  3. The Staff Fundraiser (also known as the Prospect Manager or Donor Manager)  

The Donor – 

is just someone trying to do good things in the world with their money. Whether they want to help people access health care; make great art available to the public; or provide others a leg up through scholarships to a college or university. 

It is almost limitless the good that people can do. 

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The Organization – 

embodies the impact the donor seeks to make.  It is the vehicle by which the good is done.  There are many, many wonderful organizations doing good every day. 

The Prospect/Donor Manager (staff fundraiser) – 

is the facilitator/enhancer of the relationship (there’s that word) between the donor and the organization.

As the staff member who is quarterbacking the whole effort, you want to be having meaningful contacts with your donors. 

But, how do you know you have a special relationship with your major gift donors and prospects?

Even more, how do you know if you are effective as facilitating/enhancing the relationship between the donor and your organization?

Here are five questions to help you evaluate your determine your major donor relationships:

1. Do you really know who your donor is?

Bonus points if you can draft a short bio of your donor (family, hobbies, career, education, interests, affiliations, etc.) and enjoy telling THEIR story!

To understand your donor – who they are – is critical to understanding what they value. 

Does your donor put family first?  Do they spend a lot of time on a particular hobby or interest? How did they become who they are – who influences them?

These are all critical pieces of information to learn over time, so you really know and understand who your donor is.

2. Can you name at least three other charities where your donor is a board member, volunteer or donor? 

Bonus points if you know WHY they support those charities!

You may be thinking – “I just want them to give to my organization.”  

Yes, BUT, knowing what charities they support helps you understand something about their motivations and values. 

3. Do you know why your donor gives to your organization?

Bonus points if you can tell a story about at least one and preferably two of your donor’s most meaningful experience(s) with your organization and how that made them feel!

If you don’t understand why your donor gives to your organization, you are in trouble.

You’ll have a difficult time stewarding their giving and ultimately asking for future support. 

Understanding why they give is understanding what motivates their philanthropy. 

4. Do you understand your donor’s preferred means for making gifts?

Bonus points if you know their preferred means for giving to their other charities!

Are their gifts income-based or asset-based or some of each?

Do they have a foundation? Donor advised-fund? 

Understanding how a donor gives can help you help them make more significant gifts. 

Major gifts are most often made using appreciated assets such as stock.  In addition, some donors have foundations and/or donor advised-funds. 

When you understand how your donor gives you may be able to help them “craft” the gift. 

5. Do you know your donor’s timetable for making a major gift to your organization?

People make major gifts on THEIR timetable.

This is not about the organization’s timetable and budget needs. 

While there are three parties to major gift relationships, you notice that all the questions to determine if your relationships are special are about the donor. 

Why? Understanding the what, why, how and when of our donors’ stories, motivations, means and timing is critical to successful major gift work.  ‘

BOTTOM LINE: Create Warm, Close Major Donor Relationships

When you focus major donor relationship planning and the donor’s desired outcomes – doing good in the world – you will be successful.

And, when you know the answers to these five questions not only do you have a special relationship with your donor; you are ready to facilitate the ask conversation with your donor for your organization.