How to Really Communicate with Major Donors

Posted by admin on Aug 10, 2018 7:33:48 AM

Learning to communicate at a deeper level with our major donors and prospects is important for growing our base of support. Do you know why our donors and prospects would care about what we do?

Part of understanding the donor requires that we consider donor motivation. What relationship do our major donors and prospects have to our mission and our people?

• Are they linked to us because they have used our service, because they know a board member, or because a family member served as a volunteer?• Or perhaps they have an altruistic interest in what we do because of a religious consonance, family tradition, or connection to friend?• And what about their financial ability? Are they capable of making a significant gift that can change the future of our organization, or are they at some lower rung on the donor ladder?

Donors often have their own personal motivations for giving and want to be respected for those motivations. They certainly want to be thought of as authentic human beings and not just as “deep pockets” or dollar signs. Many also are willing to volunteer for service in a variety of ways. Are we making it easy for people to gain access so that they can feel a part of the work?

In order to meet the needs of donors and prospects, and to learn more about whether a prospect is compatible with us and capable of contributing to our organization, we need to engage in some transitive communication. I like to use an acronym to help me remember the points I want to cover.

The acronym FORM has been around for a decade or more. This mnemonic device reminds us that we can talk with anyone, in any place, at least four things: family, occupation, recreation, and money. When we have conversations with people, we need to seek transitive conversations. In other words, this is not idle chatter; we want to move from a position of ignorance to a position of knowledge for both parties.

We ask about family to learn those connections and secrets; we ask about occupation to help assess current income and asset value; we ask about recreation to ascertain the level of disposable income; we ask about money (who can’t talk about money in this economy) to ascertain comfort levels, degree of involvement in investments, and knowledge of things financial. FORM is designed to learn valuable and applicable information from a prospective donor.

I have “morphed” FORM into MORF, which is designed to communicate my organization to the prospect. Understand that this is not linear. We don’t do FORM and then MORF. It’s the development officer’s or board member’s job to fit these eight constructs into intelligent conversation.

MORF—mission of the organization, opportunities for support, resources that are available, and friends with whom we can network. It is imperative that we communicate what we are accomplishing in the community as we fulfill our missions. Second, we want to suggest that there are opportunities to invest in innovative and effective programs or expansive buildings. We want to assure, by pointing out that they would not be the only ones supporting the project, that we have the infrastructure to succeed, that we have done due diligence on need and necessity. Finally, we ask, who else should we be talking to about our mission and opportunities?

Board members should have a leading role in conducting transitive conversations. But everyone involved in the organization can do this. Certainly the CEO, staff, and volunteers can have a part, too. The next very important step is to be sure that the substance of the transitive conversation is recorded and entered into the prospect’s file!

What other sorts of things get people going? Without being manipulative, we can help prospects and donors to feel good about what they are doing. It’s a phone call— I just made one the other day to say thanks (I believe in multiple thank yous by phone, email, mail, other people involved or a visit.

• Perhaps part of the FORM-MORF process is to ask how a prospect feels about his or her involvement.• Some are motivated by being challenged. Some might like to be leaders and offer a challenge match for a certain number of dollars. Others like to be the ones to meet the match.• Some don’t like to be tied into doing a certain thing, but like a menu to choose from. As long as all of the items on the menu help to meet the organization’s goals, what they choose doesn’t matter.

• And some like to play. I’ve had groups who want to do parties, dances, and auctions. You’ll want to find the venues to get them having fun, helping to put on events. It pulls them closer to the core of the organization.

We’ve talked about meeting donors’ needs to motivate them. Let’s look now at the process of relationship-building from the organization’s perspective. There are things that organizations need and want from their donors and volunteers:

• We’d like them to participate as volunteers. What are some of the things you can volunteer for?• And of course we want them to talk us up, to tell the story to friends and colleagues.• We also want to meet some of their like-minded friends, suspects who could become prospects, and then donors or volunteers themselves. We want to meet others, too—influencers, government officials, corporate and civic leaders—to build goodwill.

• And we’d be thrilled to have them actually ask people to make a contribution of time, talent, and/or treasure.

Good relationships are the result of open communication. Using FORM/MORF as a reminder can help you build bridges to current donors and new prospects. Then you’ll be really communicating!

Custom Development Solutions, Inc. (CDS) is among the most sought after fundraising consulting firms specializing in the strategic planning and tactical execution of capital campaigns for non-profits throughout the United States and Canada.  If you have a fundraising question, please call CDS at 800-761-3833 or send an email to

Topics: Capital Campaigns, Communications and Networking, donor communication, donor relationships, donor stewardship, Fundraising Principles, Major Gifts, Professional Skill Building

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