Headmasters: Eight ways to win friends and create major donors

In private schools, there are countless number of wealthy parents who love your school but have never invested any more than tuition. How do you move them from entry level givers to a long-term, committed major donors? Is there a secret?

It is not a secret and it is easier than you think. Eight ways to win friends, influence people, and create major donors for your school.

  1. Care for them as a real person — Nobody in life wants to be pursued in a shallow, self-centered manner. Whether the pursuit is over money, their work title, their sports ability, their connections, or even their looks, people desire love. People from all backgrounds and socioeconomic status, want to be cared for authentically and respected for who they really are behind the mask. As a school leader, do you really care about your parents as people? Do you care for individuals with cares, concerns, fears, anxieties, hopes, and dreams? Before you ask your parents for money or for anything beyond the basic tuition, seek to become their friend and ask nothing from them. Learn who they are and build a relationship.
  2. Be genuine and authentic — Wealthy donors want to know your story as leader and whether you can be can trusted. Share your genuine life story and show you have nothing to hide. When they become invested in your life, they will begin to see you as their friend. A friendship has been established and a foundation for trust building has been laid.
  3. Learn their interests — if you get to meet with a major donor in their office or home, look around and see what they have on display. Do they have a lot of family pictures out? Is there western art on display? Do they have a favorite sports team memorabilia for all to see? Do they love horses? Do they have pictures of them traveling in Europe? What things do they keep close to them? If you have access to see what organizations they give to, research it, and see if there is a common denominator. Knowing their personal affinities and loves will mean a great deal to them, especially the fact you have taken the time to learn them.
  4. Create unique recognition items for them — as you learn the major donor, understand how they like to be recognized. Some people want to remain completely anonymous but they would be incredibly touched by thank you letters and pictures from children. Others would value having their name on a building to leave a lasting legacy. While others would like trumpets played and major newspapers praising their name for their major gift. Be sensitive in how you recognize them and realize everyone is unique and different in how they like to be thanked. Do not forget, everybody likes to be thanked in some way.
  5. Show exactly where their money is going — Millionaires don’t become millionaires by wasting their money. The same goes for their charity donations. They want to make sure there is a clear Return on Investment to their donation and it is not being wasted on administrative costs. They want to be able to see a direct line from their major gift to the scholarship, building, or program they funded. Is the money going to the students and teachers they want helped? Make it clear and be proactive in providing details. Allow them to celebrate the victories and be a part of the life cycle of their major gift.
  6. Create engagement points in their investment — where can the major donor get their hands “dirty” in the project or see first-hand a student enjoying the building they donated for the school? Create unique engagement points (remember learning their interests) or volunteer activities where major donors. Allow them to experience the priceless expressions and the smiling faces of students for themselves.
  7. Provide them one point of contact — Make it as easy as possible for them to engage in your school. Let them know you can be the one point of contact they need to resolve any issues or concerns they may have. Give them your personal cell phone, always promptly return their emails, and immediately hand write thank you notes for every contact with them.
  8. Move them along in their giving to create WIN/WIN’s for all involved — many potential major donors may be giving a small amount but once you learn their interests, you can create a win/win giving opportunities. These win/win fundraising opportunities can meet their affinity, create unique recognition, brand and market their business in the appropriate light, and provide a broad opportunity for networking.

When it all comes down to it, people give to people. Major donors want to be cared for as individuals and they want to have someone they can trust in the organization who knows them. Take a long view in your relationship building with major donors. Focus on genuinely and authentically cultivating a personal relationship with them as people and not just individuals with dollar signs in front of them. You will be glad you did and you will have gained a friend out of it!