Great response to a question about fundraising from major donors
I think the first thing to do is figure out what logical tiers of donors (and prospects) you have, and then create cultivation/stewardship strategies for each. Often, it’s simplest to break your data base into three or four levels:
The top level should be those who deserve highly personalized attention because of their giving history or high potential/inclination to be a major donor: phone calls from your boss, board chair or most appropriate connection; hand-written notes; one-to-one meetings—if they want them; as well as small gatherings at which they are made to feel like true stakeholders and/or insiders. As noted above, in some cases the latter can include either board members or those who benefit from your work, or both. (Either way, no asking take place at these!)
I concur that asking your top donors what aspect of your program was the impetus for their involvement, what they love most about your organization; I find that doing that opens the door to the donor almost “selling” themselves, rather than them having to hear a pitch. Sometimes I find that creating a questionnaire similar to what’s used in a feasibility study is useful if you call each donor to ask if you can come pick their brain about their thoughts on what’s working, what’s not, etc. People tend to be quite interested in giving advice, especially about an organization to which they’ve already committed personal resources; by doing this, you glean a wealth of info, get to know them much better and bring each even closer to your group.
The second level might get most of the above, but without the one-to-one meetings (unless it’s a small number of people, in which case a total of three tiers might be just fine). Stewardship events for this group can be fairly basic and hopefully turn-key: tours of your facility, or occasional and informal dialogues between your boss and 6-12 people over coffee in your offices. The point here is that doing these is a great way to connect without investing a lot of time or money.
The third tier, which most likely will include those who’ve given fairly regularly (even if at low-dollar levels, however your org defines that), should be sent communications and acknowledgments that recognize their loyalty; as you know, this group is typically the #1 source of planned gifts so should be well-tended! Having events for this group, though, is very time-consuming and only realistic if you have enough staff or a super-engaged board.
The last group needs the basics: newsletters (by post or email), e-blasts, annual report, at least a few solicitation letters/emails a year, updates from the president or, sometimes, senior program staff, etc. Needless to say, much of these also go to all four tiers—just not the generic solicitations.
(Comment from Jennifer)