Work the Pipeline and Be a HERO An Action Plan for Major Gifts Officers

Date Published
Kate Ryan

Imagine yourself a brand-new major gifts officer for a membership organization where the donors who give $1,000 or more annually are yours to steward. You’ve forged relationships with the donor group you inherited. Your boss has now challenged you to find new prospects to cultivate and turn into major donors. It’s time to dust off that red cape from last year’s office Halloween party and be a hero – one with an Action Plan!

You already know that upgrading current donors is much easier than working a cold prospect list. Here’s why:

  1. You know they support your organization’s mission.
  2. They understand that you are good stewards of their support.
  3. You’ll ask them to upgrade because of previous positive outcomes.

Step 1

You know that there are warm prospects in your CRM (Customer Relationship Management software). Using RFM (Recency/Frequency/Monetary) segmentation, find the donors who:

  • Have given recently and
  • Have given multiple gifts and/or
  • Have given between $500 and $999 in a year.
    Note: If your organization offers premiums, you may decide not to include the premium takers on your list. Keep in mind, though, that no matter the reason for their gift, they’ve shown a capacity for higher dollar contributions.

Without having to resort to a wealth overlay or markers such as other philanthropic giving, real estate ownership, political contributions, and stock ownership, you’ve created a super targeted and HOT list to communicate with.

Step 2

Now it’s time to test the atmosphere. Send out an invitation to join your organization’s major donor level.

  • Acknowledge their last gift and how it supported the mission.
  • Be specific about why you want them to upgrade and make the ask.
  • Consider using an ask string based on the most recent gift.

Whether they respond with a major gift or not, you’ve primed this audience for upgrade communications. Congratulations! Send them a personal acknowledgment and add them to your call list.

Step 3

With the invitation project, you set a benchmark for how this group will respond to an upgrade ask. Armed with solid results, you could use your superpowers to simply re-mail the invite in 3 to 6 months to the same RFM-segmented audience.

Or, you could roll out a similar invitation into early efforts of the current membership renewal series. Remember, if you don’t have a mid-level program, this is the series your prospects are used to receiving. Adding in a few letter versions at the beginning of the cycle makes the process efficient. If they don’t respond to these special invitations, they drop back into the membership cycle to renew with the basic ask string.

What I like about this renewal cycle segmentation strategy is that it has the potential to give you a steady stream of donors joining your Major Giving group.

Step 4 – optional

Send a special appeal once or twice per year – perhaps a matching challenge or an urgent request centered around Calendar-Year-End or Fiscal-Year-End mailings. Targeted letter versions to appeals such as these can be sent to the RFM audience you already know.

One last thing: consider raising your game with these mailings and use a closed-face outer envelope and first-class postage. Details like these help to get those envelopes opened!

There you have it – an Upgrade Action Plan sure to make you a Major Gifts hero! Would you like to talk it through? Give us a call. AFG can help you with copy and creative recommendations. Or we can take the whole program off of your plate so that you can get back to saving the world like the hero you are.

About the Author:
Kate Ryan
Account Director, Agency Services

Role at the Company

My role involves helping fundraisers find and keep loyal donors while making a positive impact in their communities. Every day, I apply whole-brain solutions to the work I do, using analytics, creativity, and a big dose of nerd to help our clients succeed.

What excites you about your work at AFG?

I love data! And having client-side experience with all three divisions of AFG allows me to rev that motor in a big way.

If you weren’t at AFG, what would you be doing?

Running an apocalypse-themed bowling alley and bar. Probably goat yoga. Managing my kids’ Youtube careers.

What are your hobbies/interests outside AFG?

Spending time with said children, acrylic fluid painting, traveling, bowling (really!), reading, and if there’s time after, a good zombie movie.

What’s something most people don’t know about you?

The first time I was ever in a plane, I jumped out. That one time I skydived was pretty cool!

What’s your favorite childhood memory?

As a kid, my family went to Tablerock Lake for our summer vacation. We had a small motorboat that was just big enough for the five of us, and my brother and I learned to waterski soon enough. One morning, dad threw out the ropes and off we went. We tooled around the lake for a long time, neither of us willing to take the first fall of the day. Dad kept circling the boat, forcing us to jump the wakes – still neither of us would take the dive. Finally ran the boat entirely out of gas just outside our cove. Dad got towed back. We had to swim.

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