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Mining for Major Gifts Through Meaningful Engagement - Part 1

By Cynthia Woolbright

Your next major donor is likely already supporting your organization and, perhaps, is even engaged at some level. Learn how to inspire, teach, and engage donors to a major gift.

The number one reason why donors give? They believe in the mission.

The number one thing donors want to know after making their gift? That their gift was received.

With these truths, what might be some key strategies for donor engagement?

We must inspire, teach, engage, ask and thank.

Let’s assume that the donor, Penelope Smith, is a Class of 1986 alumna. She is a consistent annual fund donor at the leadership level. Over the years, she has increased her giving, she’s met numerous gift officers, and served on the Alumni Association Board, including a term as president. She was a member of the Regional Campaign Committee – the campaign successfully ended in 2016.

So, what does all that tell us about her? She is:

  • A consistent supporter of the annual fund at the leadership level;
  • An involved alumna, serving on the Alumni Association Board;
  • A major gift donor, given her role as a member of the Regional Campaign Committee and a gift of $25,000.

She has moved through the cycle nicely, but what are optimal strategies for increasing her inspiration, teaching her more about the campus, learning more about her interests, engaging her, and inspiring her to make her next gift?

Deepening Her Inspiration

Invite her, as well as other alumni who are similar in capacity, giving, and interest - cancer in children- to attend a lecture given by a world-renown researcher in this area.

She will be one of a group of five to seven, including the gift officer and a faculty member whose interests are represented in this area. Prior to lecture, they meet for dinner at the University Club. Much of the discussion focuses on research to help cure cancer in children.

When asked about what inspired her to attend this university, she indicated that it was the research in children’s medicine. She indicated that her sister died, at the age of six, from cancer. The advancement officer realizes that this information is not contained in any call reports or conversations with colleagues. Obviously, this was a significant miss.

In a quick moment, the officer realizes that she needs to have Penelope meet the research professor who is giving the lecture. With some quick work, it’s arranged, and she can meet the professor following the lecture. They chat for a short time a very animated manner. She seems quite pleased with the evening and what she learned.

Learning More About Her Interests

Next steps include a follow up meeting with her to learn more about her interests in this area and what she wants to accomplish with her legacy. Also, more research is conducted, and it is learned that she gives $100,000 annually to St. Jude’s Children’s Research Hospital. Also missed by your university in prior years.

Over the course of the next several months, Penelope receives reports on research in this area that is conducted by the faculty in your medical school. She meets some of the residents and fellows. She also meets some of the families whose children are being treated at the Medical Center and learns more about them.

Engaging Her in the Work

During this time, she is increasingly inspired as she becomes more aware and understanding of the university’s research. She is invited to serve on the Medical Center’s Board of Visitors and gladly accepts.

This cycle of “teaching” continues for Penelope and some of the research faculty. And, her engagement is very advanced, given her passion, knowledge, and interest. Over the next several months, she discusses areas of collaboration of researchers from your university and those at St. Jude.

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