Love Your Donor for Life

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By Jeff Schreifels

I received a question recently from a development director that really intrigued me, and it got me thinking about what it means to view your donors as part of your mission just as much as what your organization does to make the world a better place.

The question was this:

We have a number of major donors in our database that, because of their age or illness have stopped giving, but over their lifetime have made significant gifts to our organization. I feel like we can’t just forget about these people, but what should I do?

I’m sure you have donors in your database just like this that have been loyal donors over the years, but for one reason or another, while they wanted to, they could not continue giving to your organization and they have not indicated if they have left you a legacy gift in their estate plans.

So, what do you do?

You continue to love that donor. Why? Because Richard and I feel that if you really view your major donors as part of your mission — even if they can’t give any longer — you still should honor them and continue to bring them joy by letting them know all they’ve done to help change the world through your mission.

What a gift that would be to that donor. And, it would prove to them, and possibly their family, that they weren’t just a source of cash all those years, that they made an impact on the world and they mattered.

Let me suggest some ways to continue to love and honor the major donor that no longer can give while also acknowledging and honoring the time and resources of your development team that also has to focus on current major donors.

  1. Continue to send your organization’s newsletters that show the impact of your work. This is relatively a small expense, but one that will have a strong impact on your lifetime donor. Older donors love receiving mail and they will appreciate it.
  2. Send a thank-you letter, if appropriate, to the donor for all their years of investments into your mission. Highlight some of those special gifts, send photos, if applicable. And try to connect with other family members, like children or grandchildren, to let them know how important the donor was to your organization.
  3. Send a handwritten note or make a phone call twice per year to remind them of how important they were to your organization. Just check in on them. It’s doesn’t take too much of your time to honor that donor.
  4. If a donor made a significant gift to a particular project or program, continue to provide updates to show him or her it’s still making an impact.
  5. If you hear word of the donor’s death, send a letter to the family commemorating the amazing gift that donor was to your organization. Send flowers or a gift that is appropriate. I’ve personally witnessed when a nonprofit sent flowers and a letter to the family of the deceased, it had everyone talking about it at the funeral. And there was no agenda, just thanks and gratitude for that donor’s life.

All of this can be done with minimal time and resources, yet it will have a major impact on your donor.

If you truly believe in being donor-centered, then — even when your major donor can no longer give — Richard and I believe you still have the obligation — and really the privilege — to continue to bring that donor joy that honors them and loves them to the end.

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