Building a More Engaged Major Donor Community: 10 Ideas

November 14, 2023

Your nonprofit’s major donors make some of the biggest individual impacts on your ability to pursue your mission and serve constituents. 

Organizations with active major giving programs already understand the importance of engaging these key supporters, but are you going far enough? Are you actively asking major donors about their experiences?

Long-term retention must be the ultimate goal of these relationships. After all, the process of securing a new major donor is time- and labor-intensive, with your development officers likely spending months and even years building relationships with prospects up until the perfect moments to solicit large gifts and campaign commitments. 

The best way to engage and retain your major donors is by fostering a sense of community around your mission that makes them feel truly involved and invested in your success.

Let’s examine 10 tried-and-true strategies for engaging your major donors, broken down into 3 key categories: 

  1. Increasing campaign involvement
  2. Building year-round community
  3. Providing more flexible giving options.

Increasing Campaign Involvement

Although your overarching goal is to engage and retain major donors for the long run, their support is most critical during large-scale campaigns. Finding ways to get donors involved during these periods will create more positive experiences for them that they’ll remember the next time around. 

These strategies will apply most directly to capital and comprehensive campaigns, but you can also adapt them to other targeted fundraising initiatives you might plan.

1. Feasibility Studies

Prior to officially launching a capital campaign, it’s best practice to conduct a feasibility or planning study. These exercises gauge stakeholders’ thoughts on your campaign plans and goal to determine whether your vision is in line with what they’re open to supporting. The results will give you a clearer roadmap for adjusting your strategy to maximize success and best appeal to your donors.

Ask your major donors to join your feasibility study and provide their input. This will signal to them that you value their opinions as philanthropic partners, and it will give you a more holistic view of your campaign’s potential.

2. Joining Committees

During a months- or years-long campaign, it’s also common for nonprofits to ask their major donors to join campaign committees to help plan and manage aspects of it.

While not every donor will be a great candidate for these roles, some will, especially those who have already demonstrated high levels of engagement outside of simply donating. Be strategic with your requests, starting by filtering through your list of major donors to identify those who have volunteered, joined feasibility studies, or otherwise been extra-engaged in the past.

3. Hosting Events

Although serving on a committee might not appeal to a donor, hosting a small event on behalf of your organization might be a better (and more fun) alternative way for them to get involved. 

Well-connected donors might be excited at the chance to host or co-host small gatherings of supporters, local public figures, and potential donors for your nonprofit, where you can give brief presentations about your mission and campaign. After the event, partner up again to send follow-up messages together.

4. Making Introductions

Donor-hosted events are the perfect opportunity for them to introduce new connections and prospects to your mission. But don’t forget to ask for introductions outside of events, as well.

If you’re planning a transformational campaign for your nonprofit, it can’t hurt to ask your major donors to consider if they have any friends or colleagues who’d also be interested in supporting your mission. This is a low-lift way to engage major donors and deepen your relationships, especially if their connections later become committed donors themselves.

Building Year-Round Community

Keeping your major donors involved between campaigns is extremely beneficial. These are perfect times to find creative ways to keep them involved and show them the ongoing impact that they’ve helped to drive. Consider these strategies that not only engage your donors but also help to strengthen their ties to one another and to your organization:

5. Giving Societies

Small membership groups just for your high-impact donors create a concrete community structure that simplifies the process of engaging and communicating with them. Personally invite donors who’ve given gifts over a certain amount or running total, and plan exclusive gatherings to express your gratitude and offer new ways to get involved.

A giving society can also be a helpful motivator for potential donors to up their gifts during your next campaign, pledge drive, or year-end celebration.

6. Special Events and Outings

Hosting unique events for major donors isn’t a new strategy by any means, but consider whether your current approach could use a refresh. Are donors bored of the same luncheons and galas? Do your events do a good job of reinforcing your mission while also giving donors something new to feel excited about?

Get creative to find new event ideas that will resonate with your donors—special speaker series, group classes, VIP outings to local institutions, and more might be ideal ways to diversify your calendar. Sending a brief survey to your major donors to learn more about their interests and ideas can help you tailor your events to your audience.

7. Board Outreach

Does your board play an active role in donor stewardship? If not, try recruiting board members for quick outreach campaigns to major donors. An email or phone call from a board member to express gratitude and generally catch up can go a long way to help major donors feel like they’re an integral part of your nonprofit’s work.

This strategy can be particularly effective depending on the nature of your mission. For example, donors to grateful patient programs at healthcare organizations have highly personal relationships with your mission as a result of their own or a family member’s medical care, which can be reinforced with personal outreach from an organizational leader.

8. Volunteering Opportunities

Volunteering might be an appealing option for some of your major donors to continue supporting your nonprofit’s mission between donations. Specialized pro bono work or providing corporate connections can be fruitful ways to help major donors drive additional impact for your mission, but even general volunteer drives to support your programs can be great options, especially during the year-end season.

Major donors can also be invited to provide their perspectives during special visits or work sessions. For example, many organizations seek direct donor input when putting together new marketing and fundraising campaigns, like by gathering their feedback on case for support documents.

Diversified Giving Options

While all your donors care about your mission on a personal level (that’s why they give in the first place), major donors might have more nuanced giving motivations than your broader donor base. Tax incentives and financial and estate planning may play greater roles in their donation decisions, so offering diverse giving options ensures that your organization will remain relevant to their current personal goals.

9. Planned Giving

Planned gifts like bequests, annuities, and trusts as part of donors’ wills or financial plans can be meaningful (and extremely impactful) ways to strengthen your partnerships.

These forms of giving often bring significant tax benefits, and some can even provide donors with regular income payments in exchange for an initial major donation. The idea of building a lasting legacy with your mission for themselves or a loved one is also a powerful motivator for many donors. 

While you shouldn’t provide direct estate or financial planning advice to donors, you should still study up on how common planned gifts work and the general benefits that they bring so that you can begin initiating planned giving conversations as your relationships with major donors grow.

10. Various Non-Cash Gifts

Gifts of non-cash assets are becoming increasingly popular with many donors as they seek to proactively manage their philanthropy during periods of economic turbulence. Gifts of stock, real estate, and cryptocurrency, grants made from donor-advised funds (DAFs), and qualified charitable distributions (QCDs) from IRAs are all popular options. 

As with planned gifts, learn more about these types of gifts so that you can effectively speak about them with donors. If you’re unsure about how to start promoting these giving options, try casually surveying your major donors to ask if they’ve ever made non-cash donations in the past and if they’d be interested in learning more about the potential tax benefits.

Keep in mind that best practices and donor motivations can vary from sector to sector. If your nonprofit is looking to conduct a more sweeping update of its stewardship strategy, guidance from experts in your field, like healthcare or higher education, can be a valuable long-term investment.

The bottom line: There are tons of ways to keep major donors engaged and invested in your nonprofit’s success. By deepening their involvement during campaigns, building community through events and special opportunities, and meeting them where they are with diverse giving options, you can show your most impactful supporters that you value your continued partnerships.

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