“The devil is in the detail” is a quote well-known, but virtually not attributable. A number of German scholars and artists employed the phrase, but it actually began in its expression in the obverse, “God is in the detail”.
Hence, we will begin our discussion of caring for major donors after their gift arrives (i.e. stewardship) by entitling this from the original phrase with an inclusive twist, The Divine is in the Detail. A number of major variables enter the consideration of how to communicate with donors following a major gift.
The relationship: You have a relationship with every donor that allows you to know what their passions, wishes, and desires are. Your relationship and what you know about that donor will dictate how you let the donor know that their gift made a difference. Some are tough, but you must be creative and explore fun, unique and dynamic ways to communicate with the donor in a way that allows them to experience the difference that they are making with their gifts. Don’t paint your major donors with broad strokes by treating them the same—customize their treatment based on your relationship with them. Listening is the key to building relationships, not schmoozing.
The communication channel: Major donors differ in the ways that they prefer to hear from you. Your decision should be based on their wishes and desires and not on what is easiest for you. If donors are open to a personal visit, that is much more appropriate, direct and helpful to you both than more distant channels like e-mail, letters, or phone calls. Don’t take the easy way out when you have opportunity to be in direct contact with your major investors. Visit them, invite them to you, call them, write a personal note and then if none of those engage them, then turn to less direct methods like e-mail and more formal letters (always personal, customized, brief, signed with blue ink and stamped with a real stamp and hand addressed).
The personalization: If your major donor is generally unknown to you and prefers distance common with foundations and some families of repute, at least get the names right and find out who all the people are that should be thanked. You have a chance to set yourself apart as a gift recipient when you ask how you can most appropriately thank donors and report on the impact that their gift had. Don’t begin with a template letter and try to make it fit—begin with what you know and start a unique, creative and wonderful communication that will set you apart!
The message: Donors want to know that their gift made a difference and that it is being put to work at once to accomplish your shared passion/mission. Your message must be personal, direct and honest, if you want to engage donors long term. Let them know that their gift has had impact and tell them personal, real human stories. People give to change lives and save lives. If you begin to focus attention on how you help them do that, rather than on soliciting gifts— people would truly step up and ask what do you need to further this incredible cause.
All of this is just to help you understand that you cannot treat major donors as you would all other donors to the organization. You must establish profiles and keep notes about your conversations and use those notes to help you learn how best to thank and steward these precious sources of gifts!