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A strong relationship with your new major giver begins in the first 48 hours.

In his last two articles, my colleague Ben Domingue filled you in on the importance of making a good first impression with your new donors. I’m here to cap off the trilogy with some words of wisdom on how to win over new major donors in particular, and ensure they become repeat givers.

First, a cautionary tale. Picture this:

You’ve been hounding a major donor prospect for years. You’ve tried every trick in the book: meeting request letters, letters of inquiry, cold calling, and even sending that long-shot unsolicited proposal.

Then, your years of hard work pay off, and you finally get a meeting with him. What’s more, he decides to give you a generous first-time gift! You pop a bottle of champagne to celebrate, cash that big ol’ check, and move on to hunting down your next white whale.

A year later, you remember that donor and start to prepare a renewal ask. He gave once, so he’ll certainly give again, right? Think again. He’s right back to being uninterested and unreachable. You may have landed this white whale once, but now he’s swum off into the deep, never to be seen again.

For most organizations, this is not fiction. Far too often, after organizations win over a major donor, they go silent. The major donor is left questioning whether their gift even added any value to the organization. A second gift? No chance.

But do not fear—this doesn'ta have to be your fate! After you finish that (well-deserved) glass of bubbly, your nose must go right back to the old grindstone. As Ben mentioned, the first 90 days after a gift is made will make or break a relationship. In fact, with major donors, the first 48 hours are crucial to your continued success.

In the first 48 hours after someone makes a major gift, be sure to do these three things:


1) Get on the phone ASAP.

Every major donor should receive a thank you phone call within 48 hours of making their gift. A phone call, even if it goes to voicemail, is the most personal way to express gratitude and build the relationship (short of an in-person meeting, of course). Surprisingly (and self-destructively), organizations procrastinate picking up the phone—and often don’t call at all. Don’t be that organization. Make the call.


2) Grab the nearest pen.

Many people call thank you notes old-fashioned; donors say they’re thoughtful. There’s no better way to start your relationship than sending a handwritten note personally thanking the donor for their support.

And if sheer gratitude isn’t motivation enough, the nonprofit Donors Choose found that donors who receive handwritten thank you notes are 38% more likely to donate in the future. Just saying.


3) Thank them again.

It is nearly impossible to over-thank a donor.

Donor stewardship is a continuation of donor cultivation. When done right, it makes donors feel appreciated and draws them deeper into the life of your organization. Donor stewardship is not “keeping a donor warm,” checking in just often enough to tee them up for another solicitation down the road. It’s gratitude, it’s communication, it’s building a meaningful relationship. Make sure the donor feels your gratitude and knows that they are now an integral part of your mission.

As your relationship with the donor progresses, continue to send them updates and involve them in the life of your organization. Create a donor communications calendar as soon as possible, making sure to give them a call at least every few months. Your major donors should be getting personal communications from you, not just mass emails and pre-recorded phone calls.

Mail a welcome packet! Bring them into your donor club! Send an extra thank you email just because! Send a fruit bouquet! Okay, that last one may be a bit much, but never forget that donor stewardship is a relationship-long process, starting the very second the donor signs the check.

But it doesn’t end there.

If you want to ensure that your donor doesn’t swim off into the murky depths, make sure they know how grateful you are. All throughout the relationship (not just in the first 90 days or even the first year), never forget to thank them for their support. I said it once and I’ll say it again: it is nearly impossible to over-thank a donor. It could be as simple as a Christmas card in December or a spontaneous phone call in April. It doesn’t take much effort from you, but it makes a huge difference to them. Besides, you genuinely are grateful, as you couldn’t be doing the great work you do without their help.

So now that you’re finished reading this article, pick up your phone (and pen and paper) and thank your major donors—in those first crucial 48 hours and 90 days, and beyond.

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