5 signs you don’t love your major donors

“Love” is a funny word to connect with major donors. And most nonprofits and executive directors will say they love their major donors. The irony is that many will demonstrate through their actions over time that they love the money, not the donor. And that, you know, is a bad thing. Major donors give where their hearts lead and where they’re loved.

Without meaning to, you may be signaling to your major donors that you really don’t love them. Here are 5 signs you may not love your major donors:

Not all signs are exactly what you are expecting...

1. You don’t listen to them, you only talk to them. Maybe a great thing to do is to listen more and pitch less. Maybe even, once you’ve thanked them, that’s a good time to be quiet and find out what is on their minds. Maybe you could ask why they give? Maybe you could figure out what motivated their first gift…wouldn’t that be an interesting conversation? Maybe you could ask open-ended questions to get the donor talking? Once they’re talking, listen (and take notes or listen very, very carefully). Even if you don’t think you’ve learned anything very helpful, you will have valued them by how you’ve listened. I know, I know, this seems so basic you’re embarrassed that I would make this my number 1 point. I’m embarrassed too, but I’m embarrassed because I think it is one of the biggest mistakes that development officers make.

2. You don’t communicate with them the way they prefer, you communicate the way you prefer. They email you and you call them. Or they respond to a phone campaign and you drop by their house. You hate social media but they are all over it….”who cares, social media is a flash in the pan,” so you call them. Most of us in donor-land will give you strong, clear signals of our preferred communication channel. Stay alert and we’ll show you how to best connect. If you use your preferred channel all the time, we may start a conversation with another npo who talks and listens the way we like to communicate.

3. You don’t learn their dreams, you only know your dreams. This saddness happens when you talk about your budgets and your buildings and don’t get around to finding out what is on their hearts. If you don’t know what they love, even about your work, then you won’t help them with their dreams. But if you can help the donor with their dreams, ah ha! now something magical can happen.

4. You don’t communicate with them unless they can give. This has happened a bunch since the economic crash a few years ago. Donors were hit hard when their investments tanked. They told the organization that they couldn’t give because they were freaked out about how much money they lost and were worried sick about their financial future. And the charity stopped communicating. If your organization did this you made it abundantly clear that the major donor was important because of the transactions not the relationship. Relationships last, transactions come and go.

5. You don’t ask them to give. Gotcha on that one, didn’t I? Funny, but major donors are major donors because they love giving. If you never get around to asking the donor to help change the world, then you don’t understand them. Major donors want to change the world through their giving. Trust me, they do. If you don’t believe it, you don’t know them. And if you don’t know them, well… you know see steps 1 through 4 above.

What about you, have you seen any signs like this around your place? How are you working to prevent this from happening? What other ways have you seen that nonprofits signal that they don’t love their donors? As always, I love hearing from you.

Steve Thomas
Partner, Oneicity

photo credit: Steve Thomas

Steve Thomas

Steve Thomas

4 thoughts on “5 signs you don’t love your major donors”

  1. Steve –

    The other important point to communication is that it is done on a consistent basis, not just around campaign time or events. It’s hard for donors to feel the love if you’re only showing up around times when you want something.

    Organizations should also develop a communication strategy that puts multiple people in the NPO in front of that donor. True connection with a nonprofit mission doesn’t just happen with a donor and major gifts director – it happens when the donor gets out and sees the work, talks with the program manager and gets the “in the trenches” point of view.

    Good gift directors build relationships with their donors, excellent ones build relationships with donors and their organization.

  2. @Jana–great points. Consistent communications that are logical and thoughtful make a huge difference. I agree that more than one person from the organization needs to be in front of the donor, but do you think there’s a place for one person in the organization to have the primary role, i.e. the person who is responsible and that person is bringing others to the donor?
    Thanks for your thinking.

  3. Steve –

    Absolutely, from even just a donor convenience prospective, you need to provide them with a single main point of contact.

    And for a larger conversation later, you also need to have excellent communication tracking in place within the organization. We used to have a saying, “God forbid, our development director get hit by a bus!”

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