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3 elements to meaningful mid-major donor relationships

I always like to say that Major Gift Officers have one of the most fun job descriptions in our industry. Now before you roll your eyes, hear me out. You literally get to cultivate deep relationships, and even friendships, with some of the most interesting people out there—major donors!

But the job does come with its challenges. Relationship building can sometimes be a struggle, especially with the elusive major donor. Large donations come with large expectations, and it’s the job of mid-level and major gift officers to make the donor feel seen, heard and special.

Now, that may look a little different with each donor. After all, it’s important to meet them where they are and give them a personalized and meaningful experience.

But there are a few foundational elements in the relationship-building process that are critical to master. In this blog, I’m sharing how predictability, person-to-person communication, and trust play essential roles in bringing mid-major donors into the heart of your mission.

1. Predictability

We’re starting with predictability because it sets the groundwork for everything else that follows.

Let’s begin with an example: McDonald’s.

No matter where in the world you are—Toronto, Beijing, London and everywhere in between—you know what to expect when you visit a McDonald’s. Yes, each menu has its features catered to the local cuisine, but the golden arches, fast service and affordability remain consistent throughout.

This predictability is one of the main reasons the fast-food giant has been able to scale their brand across the globe.

The same thing applies with mid-major donors. While each donor may have specific preferences about how you communicate with them, maintaining a predictable and consistent presence is essential.

They want to know what to expect from you. Throw any surprises their way and you may lose their loyalty. If you take the time to establish a consistent and predictable pattern for communication, stewardship and impact reports, they’ll be much more likely to hear you out when it comes time for your next big ask.

2. Person-to-person communication

Earlier in the blog, I mentioned the importance of meeting donors where they are. This applies to all donors, but especially to mid-major donors.

Each will be a little different, but they’ll let you know early on how much communication they expect and where they prefer it to be. Maybe they’re more comfortable with LinkedIn or texting vs. email and phone calls—it’s all about adapting to their preferences.

Once you determine the channel in which they want to be communicated with, it’s all about making the experience personal to them. Focus your conversations on:

  • Your interest in their story, career or personal achievements
  • What they want to accomplish as change agents
  • What legacy they want to leave behind
  • Their preferences for recognition
  • How they can bring their network into the conversation

As you’ll notice from the points above, person-to-person communication is all about removing the middleman (your organization) from the conversation. Put the donor in the middle of everything and make them feel that you have a genuine interest in who they are as a person.

3. Trust

With predictability and personalized communication comes trust.

Once you establish a pattern of consistent behavior and learn to communicate with them in an effective and meaningful way, you’ll gain the trust and backing of the major donor.

Trust can be difficult to gain and easy to lose, but by making major donors feel like they’re the conduit for change in the world, respecting their preferences for communication and recognition, and paying attention to the smallest details, they’ll begin to build trust in you—and more importantly, build closer ties to your mission.

Mastering these three elements will help you build better and more effective relationships with your mid-level and major donors, but having the infrastructure to support your efforts internally is equally as important.

In my next blog, I share how to structure your program through the right behaviors, habits and performance.

Fiona Cunningham

Born, raised and educated in the UK, Fiona commenced a successful 13-year career in international business with Fortune 100 Corporations, resulting in serving as president of a wholly-owned subsidiary of a major global corporation. With a life-altering event, she adjusted her career aspirations toward the nonprofit sector.

After 18 years leading distinguished partner engagement with local and national nonprofits, including Arthritis Foundation and American Cancer Society, she joined RKD Group. Her expertise spans leadership development, strategic planning, corporate partnerships, major gifts, cause campaigns, distinguished events and volunteer leadership recruitment.

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