Episode 015 – How to Define a Major Partner Email Strategy

Donor Communication, , Podcasts

By Jeremy Reis

In this episode, Gary asks what, if anything, should we email major donors? This isn’t an either/or answer, it isn’t whether or not you send major and midlevel donors emails, but which emails and how often. Jeremy teaches you how to define a major partner email communication strategy and recommends which emails to send based on which segment the donor is in. This is a “can’t miss” episode for major donor teams.

Full Transcript:

Today’s question is about communicating with major donors. Before I jump too far into the episode, I wanna encourage you to go buy a book, it is a book by Tim Smith, it’s called, “Donors Are People Too.” Tim lays out a case for building relationships with major donors. He is one of the best. He’s been at organizations that have raised over a billion dollars, in his career. He is the leading expert in major donor relationships. I can’t encourage you enough to go read this book. It’s not just for major donor reps or for people who work with major donors.

If you read this book, then what you will find is that your viewpoint of how your non-profit should be in relation to donors, will completely change. You will find that the tips and hints and advice that Tim gives about building relationships with donors, will fundamentally change how you view communication with donors and how you view fundraising. So I encourage you, Donors Are People Too, by Tim Smith. It’s available on Amazon, Barnes and Noble, any of the major book sellers. Go grab a copy, read it, it’s a quick read, and I know that your view on fundraising will change for the better, when you read this book.

Now we’re gonna jump into Gary’s question about major donors and how we communicate with them, specifically, via email.

My name is Gary, and I have a question about major donors. Should we send them all the same digital communication pieces we send the general donors, or should we suppress email to them? Thanks a lot for your help.

Gary, thank you for your question, it’s really great timing, as a lot of organizations are struggling with how do we define great communication plans that take into account different segmentations or different types of donors. A major, mid-level general, or monthly donor, they’re all gonna need different types of communication and different ways that we communicate with them, because they have different passions and they have different desires and different ability to support the cause of our organization.

As we build relationships with different types of donors, so that we can be in community with another, supporting the passion, the cause, that we support as an organization, we need to define the ways that we communicate with these donors, that are effective in building that relationship in that community. So your question about email and major donors, really resonates with a lot of organizations right now. The cool thing is, I don’t believe it’s an ‘either/or’ situation. I don’t believe that it’s either you do or don’t send email to major donors.

I believe it’s a matter of email is a channel and what you need to do is effectively build a communication plan around email, so that the frequency and the types of emails that you send major donors, makes sense for where they’re at in relationship to your organization. Email is simply another channel of communication. The determining factor, that I see with major donors, is whether or not they’re on a caseload, meaning, they have a donor rep assigned to manage them and to communicate with them.

When you have a donor rep involved in the situation, then I believe that your communication plan, with those particular donors, needs to change to reflect that. If you don’t have a major donor rep assigned to a particular major donor, then you need to have a specific communication plan that works for that donor.

So let’s take the scenario of, that a major donor is on a caseload, they do have someone that is working with them, the same person working with them, that communicates with them on a regular basis.

Really is three things that I look at here, when a donor is on a caseload. Caseload donors do need to receive regular communication from the organization. In this case, it would be from the donor rep, and they don’t need to receive the same communication that everyone else is receiving, but they do need to receive some regular communication, because they are gonna be building a relationship with this particular donor rep and the organization.

Second, then, I would have a major donor rep forward appropriate emails, that come through from the organization, that go out to the mass donors, I would have them forward those emails with a note that’s personalized to the major donor. And again, this doesn’t need to be every single one. At Food for the Hungry, we send out several emails a month, that might be too much for a particular major donor to receive, so the major donor rep would customize which ones and decide which ones make the most sense, from a frequency standpoint and a messaging standpoint, for that major donor. If you have a major donor who’s really passionate about one area of work, in your organization, it probably doesn’t make a lot of sense to send them the email that focuses on a different area of work, unless you’re trying to really broaden the appeal of the organization, to that particular major donor rep.

And third, you need to create a communication stream, especially when it comes to success in impact stories. This is an area that you could put them into an email file that receives stories that other donors are receiving, and these would be success impact stories that really tell of the great work that your organization is doing with existing donor dollars. Of course, if you have a success story from a project that a major donor was involved with, that should definitely come to them and it definitely should come from the major donor rep, telling that story.

One of the examples of one thing that we’re doing, at Food for the Hungry, for major donors is, if they are a major donor who also sponsors a child, we’re working on a plan to send one of our people, in the field, in the country, where that child is, to go out and shoot a little video of that child saying hi to their major donor. So this way you’ll be able to really personalize a message to this major donor, with something that they’re passionate about. This child that they’re sponsoring through Food for the Hungry.

So if you have a case where you have a great story, that really will impact a major donor and you can get video of it, or get someone to tell you that story, to communicate to the major donor. That’s gonna be a really positive experience for that major donor and really help build up that relationship that you have with him or her.

If the major donor is not on a caseload, then you’ve got some different decisions to make about the communication stream for that donor. So that donor, what I would recommend is that you customize email appeals to their giving history. So both, the cause and the amounts of donations, should be customized, or personalized, to what that major donor has given in the past. If you don’t wanna send an email to a donor that’s given you, frequently, $10,000 gifts and ask them for $50, because they might just give you $50. And so you really wanna customize that particular email to something that they’re passionate about and also to the giving levels that they’re passionate about giving to.

You don’t wanna neglect your major donor prospects or your mid-level donors, in this case. If you don’t have capacity to have a donor rep assigned to mid-level donors, you still need to build out a communication stream, both for mid-level donors and for major donor prospects. Those people that meet certain criteria, that they could potentially move into becoming a major donor.

This is one area that a lot of organizations struggle, is building this communication funnel, such that general donors move into becoming mid-level prospects, mid-level prospects move into becoming mid-level donors, mid-level donors become major prospects, and major prospects become major donors.

When you build out a really effective communication stream, then it’s gonna provide a lot of value to those donors, which will then help move them along this path, to really maximize the impact that they can make, for the cause that they wanna support.

So you want to develop a communication plan for each one of those areas, to really keep people engaged with the organization. And basically the communication plan is when and what will you send to this particular segmentation of donors? What is going to appeal to them? What’s gonna speak to their heart? To their passion? To their feelings about your cause, about your organization? And that’s what a communication plan is. Might look like a 12 month calendar, an 18 month calendar, but it’s effectively, what are you gonna send and when are you gonna send it, that makes most sense for each one of those segmentations.

Most of all, remember, you’re building a relationship with these folks. There’s a long-running joke in the non-profit space, and it goes like this, “Are you receiving too many communications from a non-profit? Just donate three grand, they won’t communicate with you anymore.” Too often, non-profits get scared to communicate too much with a mid-level or a major donor, and they end up not communicating at all. You’re missing an opportunity to get to know the donor and what her desires are, what her dreams are, what her passions are.

And so you don’t want to fall into the trap of not communicating with a mid-level, or a major donor. And if you don’t have a situation where you have a rep or you’ve got people that are of that level and you just don’t have enough reps to cover them, then you do need to build a communication stream that makes sense for that major donor, something that fits into the frequency of communication that they wanna receive, from your organization, and really fits the passion of what they’re interested in and excited about supporting, with the organization.

Thanks again Gary, for this question, it’s been really, I think, impactful timing for a lot of non-profits trying to figure out how do they and when do they communicate with major donors and I’d really encourage you to look at your email stream, and decide what makes the most sense for those major donors and for the position that you’re in, as an organization, so that you can really continue to build a good relationship with those donors, to not fall into the trap of where you stop communicate with donors, but you really play into the passions that they have. Because that’s why they’re giving to your organization. They have passions, they wanna support your cause. And so you really want to make sure that you provide the information that they need, so that they can continue feeling good about your organization and the cause.

Thanks, Gary.

Thank you for listening to this episode of the Non-profit Answers Podcast. Please take a moment to rate and review this podcast on iTunes or your favorite podcasting service. Your rating and review will help other non-profit professionals find this podcast, to get their non-profit questions answered.

Thanks again.


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