Your Next Big Donor Might Already Know You
“Hidden gems” are your supporters who are just waiting to be asked to give more. What are you waiting for?
It falls to you to identify those among your existing donors who could be tapped for a larger gift. Donors’ generosity doesn’t mean they remember to give, or remember your organization when they think about increasing their philanthropy.
How do you find those gems hidden in your database and mailing list? What do you do once you find them? What is the best way to turn average donors into exceptional ones?
How do you find a hidden gem?
It takes a fair bit of research to identify those among your donors who have the capacity to give more than they already do.
The quickest way is to do a little digging into information about donors who give to your organization regularly. The task is to find which donors have indicators of wealth like real-estate, income, a family foundation, major inheritance, etc…do they have enough wealth to give double their current gift, or an order of magnitude more.
Say you have a donor who is a high-power executive in a competitive industry, who mails you a check for $1,000 annually in response to your yearly Spring campaign. She probably isn’t thinking to herself, “I really should increase my giving to this organization” when she looks at your generic mailing.
As part of your organization’s fundraising strategy, identifying these donors is crucial for growth. Next, prepare individual approaches on how to ask each specific donor to give more, rather than just keeping them on the mailing list and hoping for an annual check. That $1,000 could be $10,000 if only you ask.
Approaching hidden gems
Each donor you approach with an increased ask is a unique situation and should be considered on a case-by-case basis.
Some general rules-of-thumb do apply:
- Know who they are
- Know what they want
- Reach out personally
Knowing who a donor “is” means more than just having a name. How long have they been giving to your organization? How did they come to you in the first place? What is their job? Do you know about their family – kids, parents, extended family? What are their interests? Do they have a personal cause that connects them more deeply to your organization’s mission?
Knowing what a donor wants is easy – ask them. Do they want world peace? Do you want world peace? Great! You want the same thing. But how do they envision that world peace coming about? In what ways do they want that peace to be part of their legacy? How do their priorities line up with your organization’s specific projects or mission?
Reaching out personally means exactly that. Are you a fundraising officer or an executive officer? Are you on a first-name basis relationship with the donors you’ve identified? If not, introduce yourself. If you already know them on sight and they recognize you, but you don’t have a rapport, get to know them better. Ask for coffee. Invite them to lunch. Call them. They’re already into your cause, so build on that existing commitment.
What to ask for
Once you determine who the hidden gem is, your next job is to make the right size “ask” – what amount should you ask them to donate?
To begin, you can test the waters of gradually increasing gifts over time by starting with a smaller incremental boost, such as a reasonable percentage increase on their largest gift.
Another approach would be to ask for funds in support of a specific project or program, earmarking the increased giving for what the donor sees as a priority. If a donor seems receptive to committing more, you might ask an amount that is a factor of their last gift – say, double the previous donation.
Asking for more than money
The number one thing donors want in return for their philanthropy is to feel like they’re making a difference in a way that’s important to them. Recognition is nice, but impact and legacy are more important motivators.
Can any of your hidden gems be tapped as new board members? Can they become committee members for your next gala? Can they be local organizers for regional chapters?
When donors feel more involved, they are more inclined to think about their relationship with your organization and mission. When they invest more time, emotion and personal meaning in your cause, they become your champions.
Turning low-level donors into those champions for your organization is an essential part of your strategy for robust growth.
Tips: Donors In Plain Sight
Sometimes the best place to look is right in front of you. From lapsed-donor mailings to targeted asks, there are people already in your network who can give.
This is low-hanging fruit that many organizations forget about. In your database, pull together a list of those who haven’t given in more than a year and contact them – you can write a letter, an email, or even call them. Remind them you’re still here, and that you miss them. Be sure to tell them the date and amount of their last gift, and share some highlights about what you’ve done since then.
Sort your donor records by zip code and compare that to a list of the wealthiest zip codes. For example, here’s Bloomberg’s list of the 100 wealthiest zip codes in the country, and this clickable list lets you see the wealthiest in each state. This is a good proxy for wealth prospects since those living in and very near high concentrations of wealth are more likely to be wealthy themselves.
Identify donors who give the same thing each time they donate. That can be the same amount, a similar amount at the same time per year, or even monthly recurring donations. These donors care enough to be committed over time, and it’s easy enough for them to just repeat their behavior. With some creative searching, you can identify which of those regular donors has the capacity to give more than the “usual”.
Do you have a plan for planned giving? Is there someone on staff who speaks to donors specifically about bequests? Do you have literature about how to include your organization a will? Planned giving isn’t a taboo topic – it’s about legacy. Are there any among your donors who would want to make your organization part of their family’s legacy?
The Next Generation
Have donors with children? Even young kids doing bake-sales at school can be considered new donors. Grown children of your donors might be entering a better stage of their careers and thinking about philanthropy. Reach out to donors with kids and ask them how they’d like to involve their children.
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