Major Donor Messaging

By: Robbin Gehrke, Russ Reid SVP, Creative Insights & Integration

How to acknowledge and treat major donors specially

As a major donor myself, I believe in supporting our clients as well as a few other nonprofits whose work I admire. I’ve also supervised creative for Major Donor campaigns for more than 15 years.

So I know that to maximize your giving opportunities with Major Donors, you need to develop a personal relationship of some kind with them. Some major donors truly appreciate face-to-face interaction. Others will sincerely appreciate the gesture, but won’t take you up on this.

But all Major Donors are happy to get regular thank you notes and personalized updates on how their gifts are making a difference.

High-touch personalization is key to your relationship. Whether your message is a thank you letter, an update, or a campaign, you should leverage any relevant data or information you have about the donor’s giving or interests. Most Major Donors simply want to feel that you appreciate what they’ve done to help. A little affirmation goes a long way.

For example, you might begin a thank you letter with personalized affirmation, such as:

Janet, your gift of love made a lifesaving difference. You may not remember the day  last December when you reached out to help provide food for suffering people/families with your amazing gift of $10,000.

But THEY will never forget your kindness. Nor will we.

On behalf of everyone you’ve helped over your 15 years with us, we also want to thank you again for all the heartfelt gifts you’ve given to save hurting people from etc. You may even be surprised to know that since (date) you’ve donated $00,000 to etc. Your caring heart is an inspiration to all of us here at XXXXX.

Personal touches, like handwriting a thank you card or a short note at the top of a letter, and hand-signing your name, are other simple ways to help build a bond, especially with donors who aren’t interested in a face-to-face relationship.

If you don’t know the donor personally,you may want to ask them whether they prefer to be addressed with the formal “Dear Mr. and Mrs. Last Name” or just their first name(s)—especially with older donors (75+) or corporate donor contacts. Most baby boomers are used to being addressed by their first name, because almost all emails use the first name. And please, make sure you have the spelling correct.

And since many Major Donors tend to give their largest gifts at the end of the year, be careful about asking them for the same level of gift throughout the rest of the year, except at year-end. It’s best to suggest different levels, but leave the personal ask open.  Most major donors are not exceptionally wealthy. They just believe in the power—and joy—of giving to help others less fortunate.

Major donors also appreciate—and respond best—to campaigns that recognize the donor’s desire to make a significant impact. These campaigns typically have:

  • An urgent, compelling need they can help solve
  • An innovative solution. Something you can position as a new way to serve your clients or a cutting-edge program. (I.e., not just a higher ask for the same offers you send to regular or lower-level middle donors.)
  • Creative that leverages highly personalized mail, email, and phone calls, with multiple touch-points.

But somewhere prominent in the campaign—especially in the first mailing and of course on the phone call, you’ll want to acknowledge your appreciation for the specific ways they have helped your cause in the past.


Talk more Major Donors and Major Gifts programs with Russ Reid. Contact Andrew Olsen (CFRE, Vice President at Russ Reid) or Steve Harrison (Senior Vice President at Russ Reid).

More resources like this:

  • Register for the June 30th Webinar – Major gifts: The nuts and bolts of a successful Major Gifts programOrganizing your Major Gift/Major Donor efforts, keeping track of activities, and measuring success are all critical elements of a great Major Gifts program. But how do you start? Join our Director of Client Data Services Elina Gorelik to learn how to build your pipeline, manage your prospect portfolio, track prospects’ progress, and know the key reports to keep you sane, organized and successful. Thursday, June 30 – 10:00 AM PST. Register for this webinar >>
  • Webinar recording “Major donors: Mastering the ask”. They say the fear of asking for money ranks right up there with fear of death and public speaking. Russ Reid’s Karen Erren walks through how to navigate the “ask” with confidence! Come away with clear understanding of why we ask for money, the steps to take prior to the “ask,” and how to ensure the answer is Yes! Access the webinar recording >>