How much research should I do on my major donors?

How much research?

How much research should I do on my major donors?

A well researched tale about two fundraising approaches.

Featuring Bastian the fundraiser at Malnutrition: Unacceptable For Children (MUFC) and Jamie from Let’s Feed Children (LFC).

They both became fundraisers at about the same time just over a year ago.  Both had the job of increasing revenue from their ‘mid-value’ donors: people who had given more than average.

Neither charity had ever had a mid or major donor program beyond it’s existing direct mail program.

Bastian, MUFC

Bastian knew that the more you know about donors, the more chance you have of getting a large donation from them.  MUFC had never had a major donor program so this was a great opportunity.

Since he arrived at MUFC, he identified prospects ‘worth’ approaching for a personal visit:

  • A: 955 donors currently giving large amounts through the direct mail program.
  • B: 196 donors currently not giving lots, but with potential.  Determined by asking a major donor prospecting data agency to scan the MUFC donor database for rich people, (36 were giving more than €500 to MUFC)
  • C: 254 prospects who were identified as wealthy connections to MUFC.  For example, some were friends of board members, others were ‘known’ wealthy locals.

Bastian had spent about €3,500 plus his time getting the data from the database.

He now had over 1,400 prospects: 955 + 196 where he knew their past giving history and 254 who hadn’t given.

Bastian now knew he had to prioritise. He asked the prospecting agency to provide profiles of the 36 prospects giving over €500 (i.e., rich people who were already giving large-ish gifts).

In addition he asked the agency if they had profiles of any of the 254 ‘C’ prospects on their database.

They had quite a few and he paid extra for 44 of the best prospects profiles.

This cost of these 80 profiles (36 + 44) was €60,000 plus about twenty hours of work – but now he had a lot of great information.

For his final research, he hired a temp researcher who helped him Google and use other public information to learn more about the remaining prospects.

Bastian managed to achieve all that within three months of starting his job with MUFC.

Next he started building brilliant, individualised cases for support for the top 80 prospects.

This work took him about nine months – back and forth with field workers, case studies and trying to get a ‘shopping’ list of items donors may be interested in.

Now he had everything lined up.

He started trying to contact the top 80 prospects: which included the 36 rich people who had given over €500 (donor prospects) and the 44 really rich people (cold prospects) who were connected to board members or just wealthy and local.

After another three months, approximately one in four of the donor prospects agreed to meet. And nearly all those who did made donations.

Only one board member managed to get a meeting specifically about donating to MUFC with any of the cold prospects.  She met three people, but wasn’t able to ask. She said it was the ‘wrong time.’

About 15 months from starting, he had raised €90,000 plus €50,000 in pledges.

Another board member committed to raising €10,000 for MUFC at an upcoming golf day.  That board member ‘ring-fenced’ his contacts, telling Bastian to wait until after that day to follow up.  Of course, he would ask for a decent time-frame between the golf day and a formal approach.  Probably a year.

So, after 15 months, tons of work and a cost of about €65,000 Bastian had raised €90,000 and had  €50,000 in pledges.  If those pledges came in, he should have covered all of his costs in just 15 months.

Jamie, LFC


Jamie took a different approach.

She knew that the most likely to donate were people who had donated before, but since only about one in four or one in five would ever meet up she decided to research people after they had agreed to meet.

Step one for her was the same as Bastian’s.  Look at the database.

She identified these prospects:

  • A: 812 donors giving large amounts through the direct mail program. These mid and major gift prospects had all given to LFC’s direct mail in the past.

Jamie worked with the direct marketing team to identify what the next campaign would be.  She interviewed a worker from the field, collected some extra photos from the direct marketing team and copied some videos they had from the website to her iPad.

After six weeks she really understood the cause, had lots of stories and lots of video from the next direct mail (and web) campaign.

She then went through the list of donors, called them and asked them for meetings.

Over the next six weeks she managed to speak with 380 of the 812 donors!  Twenty actually made donations over the phone – usually about the same size as previously, but one gave €20,000.

Of the remaining 360, 205 agreed to meet.  Before each meeting she Google’d them to find out what she could.  Even after that, she knew nothing about most except their previous giving to LFC.  But that was enough.

Within those six weeks she had met up with 160 of her mid and major gift prospects.  She managed to get total donations of €390,000.

In total, she had raised over €400,000 in her first three months.  She knew from the database it was €250,000 more than what these people had ever donated before in a year.

Not bad, but next she needed some really big donations which wouldn’t be as quick. So she convinced the boss to take on someone else to keep this pace up, whilst she started looking at those BIG prospects.

 Learnings from this story:

  • Most donors won’t meet you, but that’s OK.  Even attempting is good donor care.
  • Focus on people who have given to your organisation in the past.  They are much more likely to give than those who have never given. And don’t be tempted early by those big wigs your board knows.  Board ‘leads’ can be awesome, but rarely.  Start with the low hanging fruit.
  • Wait until donors agree to meet you before you research beyond previous giving.   That way you will be more effective and be able to meet many, many more donors. Living in this state of frantic research is fine, if planned.  And don’t worry if you don’t find much more out.  Their previous giving is the gold dust of research.
  • You probably already have great major gift propositions within your current programs.  You don’t have to develop new cases for support straight away. For example, Amnesty lifted a donor’s gifts by asking them to kick off the next direct mail appeal with a big donation.  Read the Amnesty Case Study here. And I have another story with a similar case coming from Burnett Institute, which will be in my next blog.
  • Fundraising planning and tactics are all about the numbers.  Jamie chased the numbers.
  • This approach doesn’t excuse you from chasing the biggies, where things take longer and more thorough research is worth the effort.  Ultimately do both, but in the first place – just get out there and ask.
  • There are no excuses for relationship / philanthropy / major donor fundraisers getting out there and asking. Fast.

Any connection between names and English Premier League teams is nearly coincidental.

Sean
PS By the way, if you’re interested in learning more about how you can turn your mid value donors into major gift donors – you should join my next webinar, where I’ll teach you a process to follow to do this, fast!

The webinar will be live on 29th / 30th September (depending on your time zone) – the webinar recording and slides will be available for all who register, regardless of whether you can make the live webinar.

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