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Five Tips for Cultivating “Expiring” Donors

It happens. Five years ticks by quickly. Before you know it, the wonderful donors who made those generous five-year pledges (of $1,000 or more per year) to join your Multiple-Year Giving Society have just made their third year’s pledge payments and no one from your organization has gotten to know them yet. In fact, they are still complete strangers to you.

Take this as a serious wake-up call and get to work. Set up your donor cultivation plan now, starting with the donors who are nearest to the end of their five-year pledge payoff cycle. If you don’t get to know them and cultivate them systematically now, you will lose most of them at the end of the five years, if not before.

I’m always surprised when people tell us they don’t want to “bother” these loyal Multiple-Year Giving Society Donors. They think they should invoice them dutifully each year, call them at the start of the sixth year, and ask them to re-up on their pledge. That is precisely the opposite of what is needed.

The whole purpose of having donors who make five-year pledges at this level is not for your organization’s financial security. After all, if a donor does not pay their annual pledge, you are not going to take legal action against them. Rather, the purpose of the giving society is to identify those donors who want to be closer to the organization. These donors did not have to make a five-year pledge. They could have opted to give the same amount of money one year at a time. By joining your giving society they are communicating something critical: they want to give to your organization, they want to stay connected to you over the next five years, and they expect you to give them updates, ask for their advice, and include them in major milestones in the life of your organization.

In other words, you should interpret their five-year pledge as their permission to stay connected with them.

We say you should have two personal contacts per year with each donor in your giving society, plus attendance at one Free Feel-Good Cultivation Event. If you have fifty donors, that would be 100 personal contacts. A telephone conversation (not just leaving a message) counts as a contact. But the best contacts are one-on-one and in person, focusing on the donor’s particular area of interest.

Even if your donors are in their third year of their pledge cycle and you have never reached out to them to talk with them or meet them in person, it is not too late. But you need to get going quickly. Here’s how:

  1. Invite a small group of five to seven Multiple-Year Giving Society Donors to a special, private “CEO Golden Hour” with your CEO and board chair in the CEO’s office. Offer a full one-hour Point of Entry Event either before or afterwards. This is a mission-focused event (not merely a nice social event), like a group of five donors having a light lunch.
    • Start the hour by having the board member and CEO thank them for their gifts and give specific examples of what their gifts have made possible.
    • Have a testimonial speaker from one of the programs that benefited from their gifts talk about how your organization changed their life for the better.
    • Resist the temptation to share only the positives. Have your CEO and board members share some of the actual challenges they are facing as well. These donors need to hear your needs and know that their money is making a difference—and will continue to be needed after their first pledge is paid off.
  2. Follow up within two to three days to get their feedback and ask if they would like to serve as an Ambassador by hosting a private Point of Entry for ten or more of their friends or colleagues in your offices, their home or workplace. Tell them you can bring the Point of Entry to their home or workplace if needed. If they prefer not to be an Ambassador, how else might they like to become involved?
  3. After they serve as a successful Ambassador, invite them to host a table at your upcoming Ask Event and fill their table with the same friends and colleagues they invited to the Point of Entry.
  4. If they are not able to come to one of your private lunch events, find another way to meet with them in person, ideally at your offices or program site where they can see your work in action.
    • Offer to meet with them one-on-one or arrange a private meeting with your CEO if appropriate.
    • At the very least, talk with them on the phone and ask them what interested them in giving to your organization.
    • Establish enough of a personal connection so that you will have something to refer back to in future contacts.
    • Set a date for a subsequent contact after each contact.
    • Do not close out their record—always schedule a next step.
  5. Before your next Ask Event, you can approach a small group of these donors to ask them to increase or extend their pledges. For example, you could tell them you are looking for five donors who will each extend their pledges for five more years or increase from $1,000 a year to $5,000 a year as a leadership gift to inspire other donors to do the same thing next year (either at your Ask Event or in a follow-up phone campaign to “expiring” donors who do not attend the Ask Event).

Above all, reach out to these donors now, by telephone. Do not wait until the next event, the next “right time.” Include them in your organization’s family right away. Make sure they know how much you value them. And vow, in the future, to cultivate your five-year pledge donors starting the day after they make their pledge, rather than waiting until their pledge is close to “expiring” before you get to know them.