Listening to Donors

Listening to Donors

June 03, 2013 by jga_admin

by Angela White


I’ve been to numerous conferences over the last several months and have noticed that most of us flock to conference sessions where we can hear directly from donors.

I had the privilege this month to moderate just such a session: a philanthropist panel at the Association of Healthcare Philanthropy’s Midwest Regional Conference in Indianapolis. The panel, “Perspectives from a Philanthropist, a Corporation, a Foundation,” included Sid Eskenazi sharing his experience making a transformational $40 million gift to Wishard Hospital (now Eskanazi Health) and Nancy Huber, President and CEO of Fifth Third Bank discussing her company and foundation’s extraordinary combined $5 million gift to the Eskenazi Health Foundation.

It was very moving to hear the personal stories behind these generous gifts and for the development staff from hospital systems across the Midwest to learn tips and techniques to improve their own major gift initiatives.

Here are three important things that I think we learned:.

  • Why us?
    What motivates major donors to give to your organization instead of some other cause? You need to know the issues that are important to your major gift donors and continue to make connections between those issues and your mission. Your cultivation, solicitation, and stewardship is most effective if it is grounded in relationship building that is focused on the motivations and philanthropic interests of your donors.
  • Why now?
    Understand what is happening in the lives of your major donor prospects and tailor your approach and timing to meet their needs. Often the catalyst that spurs a donor to make a transformational gift is the timely intersection of your mission and her/his personal situation or life stage. Finding the right information to share with your major donor prospects at the right time will be extremely valuable in the successful investment of philanthropic funds.
  • Why me?
    It is important to build multi-faceted relationships with your major donors and prospects to build and strengthen institutional relationships. It is important to understand who holds the keys to the relationship with your donors and prospects and who is best suited to ask for a transformational gift. Knowing where and how the relationship was established and how it has grown over the life of your organization will guide your next steps with each prospect and donor.

How often do you ask your major donors to share their personal philanthropic stories with your institution? Here are a few ideas for you:

  • Schedule regular meetings for the leadership of your institution with key donors to understand their philanthropic motivations along with thanking them for their past support.
  • Invite major donors to a board meeting or other key institutional meetings to share why they support your institution and what motivates them to become even more invested in your mission.
  • Invite several major gift donors to host private gatherings in their homes to host major donor prospects so that the donors can share their love of your institution with other prospective donors.

By listening to your donors, you will strengthen your relationships and will gain valuable information for fine-tuning your major gifts program.