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9 Things I've Learned About Leadership Donors [Guest Post]

Posted by Maeve Strathy on Apr 9, 2015 9:30:00 AM

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Today's post comes courtesy of Maeve Starthy! Maeve is a fundraiser from Ontario, Canada and runs the blog

My name is Maeve Strathy and I run the Leadership Giving program at Wilfrid Laurier University in Waterloo, Ontario, Canada (“Hi Maeve”). What is Leadership Giving? You might know them as “mid-level gifts” or “the muddle in the middle”. To me, they’re best summed up in the form of altered Britney Spears lyrics:

Annual | Major Gift Donors

The truth is that I’m still figuring it all out myself, but I wanted to share 9 things about leadership donors that I’ve seen to be true:

1. They don’t care that they’re leadership donors

Sometimes we label and we brand and we realize “donors don’t care what we call them!”

Donor Classification

Labeling your leadership giving program is helpful internally, but don’t expect it to matter to donors… and it doesn’t need to.

2. They fit snugly between annual and major donors

In every way! At Laurier, our leadership giving program sits in the Annual Giving department, but it has almost as much in common with our major gift team. And the donors themselves are hybrids; some love getting calls from students in the Call Center, some love direct mail, some love personalized contact, and others live for face-to-face meetings. So I’ve made the program a combination of all of the above! I use direct mail pieces with variable paragraphs acknowledging their especially generous giving, I hand-write addresses on the top donors’ envelopes, and I book meetings with prospects and hit the road!

Mid Level Donors

3. They’re easy to identify

I decided early on that I want to meet with donors only (as opposed to prospects with no giving history who are thought to have capacity). I also decided that my donor pool would be tiered based on the amount and “recency” of their last gift. Any previous gifts of $500+ would give someone “leadership potential”, and the higher the amount and the more recent the gift, the higher their potential. Whatever your parameters, you’ll start to see the patterns and potential among your leadership donors.

Spotting donors

4.  Make your intent clear

I think this is key when you contact any kind of donor, but I think major gift prospects may be a bit savvier about reading between the lines of your meeting request email, or they’re more used to fundraisers knocking on their doors. Leadership donors may have never met with a fundraiser before, so if you send a meeting request, be extra clear and answer the question: “Why do you want to meet with me? No, seriously.”

Be clear with donors

5. Face-to-face meetings are a “nice to have”

But on that note, even with a clear intent, don’t expect all leadership donors to be keen on a meeting. I get lots of responses to my meeting requests along the lines of: “No need for a meeting, I’ll just make my annual gift.” That’s okay! Though I’ve definitely seen more cases of upgrades from face-to-face meetings, you’ve got to ease your donors into the experience of personal contact. So if you can’t get a meeting the first time, try, try again.

6. The stages happen fast

Your leadership prospects won’t play hard to get with you very often. Once you book a meeting or make some sort of contact, you’ll find you’ll go from identification to stewardship very quickly. They’re in your pool because they’re already identified, and when you meet you’ll feel comfortable cultivating and soliciting in the same sitting.

Donor stages

7. They’re ready to make their next gift

And speaking of which, they’re probably ready to give right then and there. The average range for most leadership gifts I’ve solicited is $500 - $10,000, and for the donors I’ve met with, they don’t take too long to make that decision. So be ready to ask and get your stewardship on right away!

8. They like their designation

Certainly come to the table with new and exciting projects to take these donors to the next level of giving, but don’t be surprised if they give to the same area they gave to last, especially if it’s the first time you’re connecting with them as a leadership donor. Get them used to the process, aim to upgrade their gift, and then maybe bring something new to them next year.

9. It can’t hurt

Finally, giving a generous annual donor the leadership treatment can’t hurt. For me, that’s what leadership giving is all about: giving donors some special treatment, seeing how they like it, and continuing to do so to give them a better donor experience and bringing in more funds for your organization!


maeveMaeve Strathy is a fundraiser and blogger. Read more of her work at





Image credits:

Ducks - Flickr user Pedro Ribeiro Simões, CC BY 2.0

Britney Spears - Wikipedia Commons user Glen Francis, CC BY 2.0, modified by Andrew Littlefield

Ru Paul - Wikipedia Commons user David Shankbone, CC BY-SA 3.0, modified by Andrew Littlefield

Pool - Flickr user SuperFantastic, CC BY 2.0

Home plate - Flickr user Sean McMenemy, CC BY 2.0, modified by Andrew Littlefield

Topics: Donors,, Donor Nurturing,, leadership giving

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