If you’re like most of my clients, you’ve probably wondered whether your organization’s major donors (and other VIPs) should receive the direct mail and email fundraising appeals you send to your regular donor base.
Maybe one of your board members made a fuss about receiving a lengthy solicitation letter. Maybe your major gifts staff complained about annual fund communications “interfering” with their own cultivation efforts. Or maybe you just feel awkward sending an old-fashioned fundraising letter to the folks who’ve already made five- or six-figure gifts to your nonprofit.
Of course, you should always tailor communications to reflect your individual supporters’ preferences whenever reasonable, whether that means limiting the emails and letters they receive or suppressing them from these lists altogether.
But does this mean you should remove top givers from your direct mail program altogether? Should you assume that all your VIPs hate getting email blasts?
In short, no.
After all, most major donors start out by making smaller gifts. A $50 check in response to one of your mailings is equivalent to a hand raise: It’s the donor’s way of telling you they found your appeal moving enough to begin a relationship with your organization. If you’ve got a strong house file program aimed at cultivating and upgrading donors over time, a portion of these first-time donors will eventually become major donors.
So if your letters and emails have been a vital part of these donors’ experience since their very first gift, why would you seal them off from your broader house file communications simply because they’re now giving at a higher level?
The problem with this approach is that it attempts to build a deeper relationship by subtracting instead of adding. If your fundraising letters, newsletters, and email appeals are carefully crafted to engage your supporters (as they should be) then excluding those at the top of the pyramid means just that: you’re excluding your VIPs from valuable messaging, and that’s not good.
Instead of quarantining your major donors from direct mail and email appeals, take steps to overlay these communications with the special, personalized treatment your high-dollar donors deserve. Here are just three ways you might introduce added personalization for this giving segment:
1. Develop a “VIP” direct mail package. Make small changes to your regular package—e.g., mail with a first-class stamp, use a special carrier envelope, or include a courtesy reply envelope instead of Business Reply Mail—to convey a level of “exclusivity” to folks in your top giving segment.
2. Adjust ask amounts and frequency. A donor who made a major gift last month shouldn’t be asked to make another gift via direct mail this month. Similarly, a donor giving at the $10,000 level shouldn’t be solicited for $1,000—or $25,000!—in a house file letter. Instead, try removing ask amounts altogether and include a soft ask when appropriate. Tell the donor that he or she is valued as one of your most generous supporters.
3. Include a handwritten note with your next fundraising letter. A short, handwritten note from a leader at your organization is a simple yet effective way to convert a “mass-produced” solicitation letter into a more personal touch. For example: “Just FYI. Wanted to make sure you saw the updates included in our latest fundraising letter. Thanks again for making such a generous gift in [Month]!”
Direct mail and email aren’t substitutes for building ongoing, face-to-face relationships with your major donors. But it’s also important to remember that direct response fundraising and personal cultivation aren’t at odds, either. They can and should work together strategically to deepen donors’ commitment to your organization and your cause.
This article was originally published in 2019 and is updated and republished.
Spencer Kashmanian helps purpose-driven organizations achieve their fundraising goals, craft clear and compelling communications, and achieve greater influence with American Philanthropic's direct response group, which offers a simple, transparent model to nonprofits, making direct mail and digital fundraising easy and successful.
You can contact him with inquiries about fundraising at firstname.lastname@example.org.