Discovering Major Gift Prospects Amongst Year-End Donors

donor cultivation and stewardship, Major Giving, calendar year-end

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As you finish your fall campaign and begin your calendar-year-end campaign, you’re certain to have some some new or returning $1,200 donors. These donors could become your next major gift prospects. A few easy strategies can help you identify a crop of excellent prospects for 2021.

First, make sure you’re stewarding the wonderful donors who have given you a $1,200 gift. You should have a process in place to make sure this happens without fail. If you need to establish one, these resources can help you get started. 

Prospect Research

The next step is to learn a little bit about each new donor. You don’t need to do a full prospect research report, but gathering some basic information about the donor will help you put them in context. How they made their gift can tell you quite a bit. Did they call in to make the gift during a drive? That lets you know they don’t mind phone conversations and you can feel less anxious about calling them. Did they give through a donor-advised fund (DAF)? Having a DAF likely means they value philanthropy as a part of their budget and make careful decisions about how to give. Additionally, they likely have a high giving capacity. Did they add a comment about why they gave? Donors often give us wonderful information about what they love along with their gift. Use this information to connect with the donor’s interests. Be careful not to assume too much, but gather any clues that might help you understand if they are a prospective major donor.

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How to Enable More Donor-Advised-Fund Gifts to Your Station

donor cultivation and stewardship, Major Giving

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Donor Advised Funds (DAF) have been in the news quite a bit recently. Since the pandemic began, the contributions to funds and the output of dollars from funds to organizations have both been breaking records. There is even a new movement spurred by philanthropists to encourage others to give more of their balances called “Half My DAF.”

Donor Advised Funds function a bit like a bank or brokerage account but the funds can only be used to support qualified nonprofit organizations. When a donor or family decides to create a DAF, they select a sponsorship organization (Vanguard, Schwab) and then transfer funds (cash, stock, etc.) into an account there. At this point they have made a tax-deductible donation to the sponsorship organization. Those funds no longer legally belong to the donor. They receive a tax letter from the sponsoring organization, which is why your organization does not send one if you are a recipient of a grant. 

From there the donor has access to make additional contributions to increase the size of their DAF account and to “recommend grants” to organizations they want to support. Typically within the sites of each sponsorship organization there are tools that help DAF account holders research organizations, review 990s, and discover organizations that connect with their philanthropic interests. 

Since the start of the pandemic, DAF sponsorship organizations have increased their communications to donors to encourage distribution of funds since the increased need among organizations is quite apparent. Reports show that many donors have chosen to be very generous with their recommended grants in the last five months. And, thanks to stock market growth, the balance of these funds are also growing.

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Are You Mis-Applying Membership Tactics to Your Major Giving Program?

donor cultivation and stewardship, Major Giving, Gift Clubs

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In public media individual giving, membership is king. It’s where we’ve had the most success. In fact, we’re kind of famous among nonprofits for how good we are at getting large numbers of donors to give small amounts. And that is something to be proud of.

If you work in public media major giving, you also know that our successes in membership can sometimes affect how we think about other areas of giving. 

Perhaps you’ve experienced one or more of the following:

  • Donors move into a major giving portfolio based only on a gift level instead of on a qualifying process.
  • There is a significant percentage of donors in your portfolio whom you don’t know well at all.
  • You don’t have a plan for each donor in your portfolio.
  • Your organization does not have projects defined that can be matched to donor interests.

Nearly all public media organizations are fluent in membership. But when public media fundraisers take the tactics that made membership wildly successful and mis-apply them to major giving, it results in low major giving revenue and frustrated major giving officers.

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Strategies to Generate Major Donor Thank-Yous When Times Are Hard

donor cultivation and stewardship, Major Giving, Gift Clubs, COVID-19

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As the country navigates the economic effects of massive unemployment, the health crisis of the coronavirus pandemic, and calls for change due to systematic inequality, the public media system continues its essential public service for audiences and donors who are affected by this complex and historic moment.

Donors have been extraordinarily generous since the beginning of the pandemic response in March and there are no signs of that slowing down. Organizations are seeing gift-club ($1000 - $5000) donors give earlier and bigger gifts than expected and we are having more substantial conversations with major gift prospects in cultivation.  

This is all wonderful news. Where we have started to let donors down is in the back-end process now that we are no longer working collaboratively in an office environment. Many organizations struggle to send timely and personal thank-you letters to donors under normal circumstances. The pressures of all these joint crises together have made that process break down even further. 

There seem to be three main reasons that this type of stewardship has stumbled. 

  1. Gift officers are extra busy and all aspects of their work is harder during lockdowns.
  2. It’s easy to feel stuck creatively and not know what to say.
  3. We may fear the donor won’t appreciate the note.
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Tips to Prepare Tax Statements for 2019

Membership, donor cultivation and stewardship, tax statements

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Year-end is not just a busy fundraising time, it’s also time to start planning for tax receipts in the new year. And while best practice often isn't asking for a gift with the statement, this is an opportunity to thank your major, mid-level, and sustaining donors for a year of support.

As reported for 2018, the Tax Cuts and Jobs Act of 2017 has made no significant changes that should impact the compliance component of the tax statements provided to donors. However, compliance isn’t the only concern. The standard deduction requirements will affect overall charitable giving. Tax experts and fundraisers alike are still watching this unfold two years later. The Giving USA report in June found giving by individuals totaled an estimated $292.09 billion, declining 1.1% in 2018 (a decrease of 3.4%, adjusted for inflation). While this decrease can’t necessarily be tied to the changes in the tax law, it certainly was a part of economic variables and uncertainty nonprofits experienced in 2018.

The strength of public media is that our supporters use and place a high value on the service stations provide. So, with that lens, strengthening that connection by practicing good stewardship is paramount.

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How Rewriting Your Thank-You Letter Could Lead to Your Next Major Gift

PMDMC, Membership, donor cultivation and stewardship, Major Giving

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Penelope Burk tells a story of one donor who, after making a $100 first-time donation, receives a thank-you letter, picks up the phone to call the organization that sent it, and announces intent to make a five-figure gift.

Seem unlikely? Perhaps. But you haven't read this kind of letter. 

Burk, the renowned author, researcher, presenter, and fundraising futurist, described such a letter at the 2019 Public Media Development and Marketing Conference (PMDMC) as an example of donor-centered fundraisingThis is relationship-focused fundraising that sustains donor loyalty and inspires more generous gifts by granting donors the three things they say they need every time they give. One of things donors want is to be acknowledged in a meaningful way; not as one of many donors, but as a single donor.

Here's the type of thank-you letter many of us are sending today:

Dear Bruce:

Through your sponsorship, you are partnering with us to improve ABC Hospital and the care received here. On behalf of the hospital, and the patients who benefit from your generosity, I would like to thank you for your contribution of $5,000 on May 20th in support of the Foundation's 19th Annual Golf Benefit. 

As a sponsor of this great event, you are making a difference!

We are honored and grateful to have your support as a sponsor of our biggest fundraising event of the year. The quality of healthcare delivered at ABC Hospital would not be as great if it were not for caring  and loyal supporters like you!


(signed by the hospital foundation development director)

It's fine. But now read this one:

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How Two Phone Calls a Day Could Make You Happier (and Raise More Money)

PMDMC, Membership, donor cultivation and stewardship, Major Giving

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Imagine if the first thing you did each day when you got to work was to make a genuine connection with your organization's mission -- with why your work matters

You wouldn't check email. You wouldn't look at your to-do list or even stop and chat with colleagues. Instead, you might pick up the phone and call just one donor. You would tell that donor how much his or her gift matters to your organization and its mission.

What if you made that same phone call to one more donor before you went home?

This is what renowned author, presenter, and fundraising futurist Penelope Burk suggested at the 2019 Public Media Development and Marketing Conference (PMDMC) during a session focused on donor-centered fundraising (her grand-finale PMDMC presentation before retirement!)

"Give yourself ten minutes to do it," suggests Burk, "Nine minutes to angst about it and one to actually do it. It will set up your day. It will change how you feel." 

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What to Do as a Fundraiser When You’re Worried About the New Tax Law

Membership, donor cultivation and stewardship, tax law

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Edited by Melanie Coulson

The passage of the Tax Cuts and Jobs Act of 2017 has caused speculation and anxiety for fundraisers in public media. We want to know what it will all mean for charitable contributions from our donors, especially major donors.

Changes to the standard deduction will mean fewer individuals will itemize charitable contributions. The Indiana University Lilly Family School of Philanthropy has estimated charitable gifts could be reduced overall by $13.1 billion dollars. We also know the doubling of the estate tax exemption could impact giving, estimated at as much as $4 billion dollars per year.

These estimates are sobering. But they are estimates. We simply don’t know how much changes in the tax law will affect public media giving overall.

Here’s what we do know.

Public media provides a service that our donors value and are passionate about. It’s a service that they use, and place high value of personal importance on. Our news and music programming is integral to their lives. We’re more than a tax opportunity. We are vital to them.

So let’s make sure there’s no doubt in their minds! If you haven’t already, now is the time to remind donors that they make a difference. This should be done early and often.

It’s time for some serious stewardship, y’all.

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The Secret to Getting Election Members to Renew

elections, Membership, donor cultivation and stewardship

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For most news stations, and a solid percentage of music stations, significant gains in new donors were achieved in the wake of the 2016 election. An increase in new donors may occur again during future election cycles or as a result of political news. There’s no doubt that unbiased, public-centered, truthful news is an utter necessity today and will continue to be so in the years to come. Likewise, access to the respite and inspiration that music and culture bring to our lives feels particularly potent for our need to re-connect with our shared humanity.

Of course, an influx of new donors is never something to be taken for granted. Now is the time to get to work stewarding your newest members:

  • Welcome your new donors with warm and grateful acknowledgement letters, e-welcome series, and communications designed to ensure that donors feel like insiders and have the chance to get the most out of your services.
  • Engage donors and demonstrating the impact of their support through on-air spots, through highlights of station accomplishments in print and online, and even through opportunities to connect in-person.
  • Thank them more than once with a postcard, a surprise email, a thank-you phone call, or an opportunity to receive a discounted or free offer exclusive to supporters.
  • Convert them to monthly donors through the mail, on the air, and on the phone.

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Little Things Mean A Lot: The Secret Behind Maine Public’s 2.4M Major Gift

donor cultivation and stewardship, Major Giving

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Sometimes a series of little things – like the specific details of a personalized cultivation and stewardship – can add up to big gifts. 

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