Here’s a perennial debate that occurs in nonprofits that are large enough to have separate programs (staffs, bureacracies, silos) for direct response versus major gift solicitation …

When should the ‘peanuts’ crew — the staff that generate those $25, $50, $100 contributions — give way to the ‘plums’ people — the major gift officers who are charged with getting the 4-5-6-7-?? digit gifts? And more specifically, when should the former stop sending direct mail and email appeals to the major donors?

Here’s excellent advice on the subject from Jeff Schreifels at Veritus Group. He says there are only two reasons to take major donors out of the direct response solicitation stream:

  1. The donor asked you to stop mailing or e-mailing appeals.
  2. Your relationship with the major donor has developed to a place where you have a substitute communication and ask strategy to replace the direct response communication.

And he emphasizes:

“Over time, as the relationship builds, the communication strategy migrates or skews toward personal solicitation vs. mail or email.

“This sometimes takes years.  It’s really up to the donor.  We cannot assume that donors do not want to receive your appeals and e-mails until they tell you they don’t.  This is what it means to be donor-centered, NOT fundraising program centered.”

So, point #1 … let the donor make the call.

And I’ll add a point #2 … It’s foolish to adopt some rigid ‘business rule’ that says, for example, any donor who gives $1,000 or more in response to a direct mail or email appeal should automatically transfer ‘upstairs’ to the major gifts department for further cultivation, if there’s no serious capacity upstairs to pick up the ball and begin building the personal relationship.

If that donor languishes unattended and outside the direct response stream, they will give less and eventually give nothing. Absolutely, positively. Here’s Roger on the subject.

Yes, you might want a specified gift amount that triggers a ‘review list’ that gets analyzed for potential value. [Indeed, Roger would argue that tools and databases now available make it possible — and in fact preferable — to wealth screen all of your donors routinely. But again, your organization needs to be prepared to act on that targeting information.]

And yes, you might want to segment your direct response solicitations such that higher value donors receive more personalized and higher-perceived-value communications. If the pool is large enough, even a dedicated communications stream.

If you’re a direct response fundraiser, you should fight to hang on to — and treat well — those donors who are climbing up the ladder and adding lifetime value to your program. Don’t let go unless you are certain that the major gifts team will do them justice!

If you’re a major gifts fundraiser, recognize and respect that the direct response program is your ‘mother’s milk’. It’s where 95% of your major gift (and bequest, see Roger here) prospects are coming from, after all. Don’t ‘extract’ from the direct response program any donor you can’t guarantee will get sustained personal attention.

The basic rule for all must be: no one falls through the cracks!


P.S. If you want really sophisticated advice and tools for moving donors up the value ladder, visit our colleagues at DonorTrends.



This article was posted in: DonorTrends / DonorVoice, Major donors, Nonprofit management, Planned giving / legacy marketing.
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