WANTED: Wealthy Strangers

#donorlove major gifts stewardship
How many times have we heard it? That well-meaning call to action from a board member or perhaps your Executive Director. “You need to go ask fill-in-the-blank-name for money.Of course, they’re referring to an uber-wealthy person in your community. The person they don’t know. The person you don’t know.  The person no one you know knows. The person who may not even care about your cause. That’s right, the wealthy stranger.
Well here’s the thing, my friends. Unless the wealthy stranger is passionate about causes like yours and you can find a mutual friend or colleague willing to make an introduction, you’re unlikely to ever secure a gift from them.

“Stop obsessing about wealthy strangers and start caring more for your current donors.” 


But there is some good news. Odds are you have wealthy estrangers in your database right now. Estrangers, meaning donors who are estranged from you – no longer giving, but previously felt inspired by your work.

The most recent data released from the Association of Fundraising Professionals reveals in the U.S., we are only retaining 46% of our donors annually, and less than 30% of our first-time donors. Further 66% of donor survey respondents report they stopped giving because they believe you don’t care about them. Feels like a dagger straight to the heart, doesn’t it?

Rather than seeking relationships with wealthy strangers, why not turn our attention to your current database in search of rekindling the flame with past lovers of your mission? You already have a historical relationship built on shared values. So, what are you waiting for?

Next steps to rekindling love with lapsed major gift candidates:

A. Pull and review database information about donors lapsed 3 years or less. You may choose to go further back, but resurrecting cold cases gets more difficult the longer they’ve lapsed. Consider the following criteria to qualify top candidates:

  1. Number of years giving at any level
  2. Cumulative gift value total
  3. Capacity rating
  4. Areas of philanthropic interest
  5. Reason(s) for lapsing with your organization, if known
  6. Known relationships with other supporters and/or board members
B. Search the internet and social media sites to determine what other organizations your most qualified lapsed donors may be supporting currently through their giving and/or volunteerism. Check your paper files for any historical information that may not be in the database. Ask Board Members, your Executive Director colleagues or other close supporters about what they know related to the donor now.
C. Develop a re-engagement plan for your top ten major donor renewal candidates.
  1. Ask a Board Member or your Executive Director to reach out to thank them for their past support via a phone call. Or perhaps you want to make the first contact.
  2. Invite them to reconnect in-person, update them on your organization or sincerely ask for advice. Determine the most powerful discovery questions you can ask during that first in-person meeting. If the donor has an unresolved issue that resulted in them lapsing, discuss and work to resolve it.
  3. Perhaps invite them (and their spouse or partner if appropriate)to attend a programmatic event related to their primary area of interest in your organization. For example, an invitation to attend a dress rehearsal for an arts performance. A Spring program at the elementary or high school. A pet adoption day at the animal shelter. An advocacy day at the Capitol. Lunch at camp for kids with cancer.
  4. Send a handwritten note of gratitude following each face-to-face engagement.
  5. Possibly send or better yet, hand-deliver a mission-focused token of appreciation. For example, a child’s piece of art, a dozen cookies from the culinary program, a bouquet of daffodils from the nature preserve. A handmade friendship bracelet from a Girl Scout troop. You get the idea.
You may be surprised to find that your lapsed donors missed you as much as you missed them. They simply thought you didn’t care. Now that you’re reunited, let’s make a vow to love, honor and cherish them, until death and legacy gift do we part. Reunited and it feels so good – yeah, baby.


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