Not all donors are alike, and some donors need that extra-personal touch. These are your major donors, also known as the top donors to your organization.
In terms of donations, the number that gets someone into the top donor category can range anywhere from $1,000 to $1 million, depending on the size of your organization, the average size of your donations, and your relationship with the donor. Just as you wouldn’t talk to your coworker in the same way that you talk to your mom, you have to communicate with major donors differently than you would with other donors.
If you’ve already read our guide to donor thank you emails, then welcome to Thank You Notes 201: Major donors require more than the basics because they have donated more money — and likely more time — to your organization. They are highly passionate about the cause, and typically have a personal connection to what you do.
Major donors deserve and expect more attention than an automated thank you. Before you start writing emails, remember these 5 golden rules for major donor fundraising.
1. Have an in-person meeting first
Whether they have already donated a significant sum or you anticipate that they will in the near or distant future, don’t solicit your major donors over email.
Schedule an in-person meeting to make the initial ask. Invite them to see your programs in action and follow up with an ask over coffee, drinks, or a meal. Major donors need to see the impact of your organization and feel like they are a part of your team.
2. Frame your ask around their individual interests
Do your research. How is this donor connected to your organization? Do they like to volunteer, attend events, or both? Did they just recently donate a large sum or have they been upping the ante over the years? Are they on your board and/or friends other members of your organization? Do they like to offer advice to your team or simply support your organization from the sidelines?
Look into past donor data and communications to determine their connection — and think beyond the numbers (remember that they’re people, too!). Ask them about their interest in your organization at the in-person meeting. Use all of this information to tailor your messaging to them, because on the other side of those emails is a unique human being who is very excited about your cause. Show them how excited you are to have their support!
3. Send exclusive updates regularly
Keep your organization top-of-mind. Build a special group within your newsletter list for major donors and send them exclusive updates.
Demonstrate how your work is driving impact with images and statistics (remember the old adage “show, don’t tell”). Also remember to add a call to action at the end driving them to go to your website, donate more, or to share the message with their networks.
4. Build a community and give them a voice
Major donors are clearly passionate about your organization. They also have other networks, areas of expertise, and interests. Encourage them to bring those to your organization.
When you think past the monetary value of a donor, you may see that they could help you with any number of challenges you’re facing, from running events to recruiting more donors. Connect them with other beneficiaries and create a community of top donors. They have already bought into your cause, but when they feel part of a movement, they will be more inclined to champion your organization.
5. Send a thank you within 24 hours after any conversation with a major donor
Another way to stay top-of-mind, and also just a polite thing to do!
Send a thank you note after your initial in-person meeting, whether or not they commit to a major donation. Mention their connection to your organization and their interests (see #2) and highlight the impact they will make and where the money will go.
After the donation goes through, send another thank you and illustrate the impact of that gift — in this case, where the donation has gone. For example, DonorsChoose.org sends pictures and cards from the students that benefit from a fundraiser. Make the impact feel tangible to the donor, and remind them of other ways they can be involved in your organization.
Need help structuring these thank you notes? Sign up below to access our Major Donor Thank You Templates for after the initial meeting, the first donation, and repeat major donations.
For after the initial meeting
For the first major donation
For long-time major donor