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3 Ideas for Connecting and Engaging with Major Donors

In this article, explore a few ideas for how nonprofits can strengthen their relationships with major donors while also keeping them engaged.

The following is a guest post from Kelly Velasquez-Hague at OneCause.


Major donors are an important part of your nonprofit’s fundraising efforts. In fact, studies show that around 80% of the average nonprofit’s funding comes from just 20% of its donors.

Having a pipeline of large donations and major gifts annually can help your organization build a reliable donation flow to fund your services, programs, and events.

On top of providing financial support, major donors are often a nonprofit’s biggest advocates, eager to spread the word about your organization and stay connected to your mission over the longer-term. But support from your major donors isn’t guaranteed. You and your team must be intentional about the tactics and outreach you enact to not just cultivate major gifts, but steward and deepen engagement with this critical donor segment.

To keep your major donors around, you need a robust engagement strategy. Over time, having a well thought out and comprehensive major donor engagement strategy will enable your nonprofit to cultivate sustaining partnerships with your highest donors and mitigate your risk of failure.

To earn a return on investment from your major gift program, we recommend three essential engagement strategies.

3 Ideas to Boost Major Donor Engagement

Your major donors have a vested interest in your cause, but without building strong relationships, they may lapse in their commitment or even worse, move on to another worthy cause. So, it’s important to put as much time into how you will nurture your donor relationships post-gift, as you do in your cultivation practices. Done well, consistent engagement outreach can empower major donors to feel like they’re truly a part of your nonprofit impact, which is especially important if you’re a new nonprofit.

To build lasting connections, incorporate the following engagement strategies into your major gift program.

1. Send personalized communications.

Instead of sending generic emails, tailor your major donor outreach. For example, a request to donate to your campaigns or fundraiser would look a lot different for a major donor than a new or one-time donor. Gone are the days of one-size-fits-all communications – today’s donors want personalized, focused communication that brings them into your mission and your impact!

An easy way to add a personal touch to major donor communications is to segment your email lists. Create a separate email segment for major donors so you can send them highly specific and relevant communications that foster passion for your cause.

When sending donation requests to major donors, highlight the impact of your organization’s work and how their specific gift creates impact for your mission. Be specific – share stats, showcase outcomes, and include images, where possible.

For example, you can tell a story about an individual your nonprofit recently helped and how this wouldn’t be possible without the generosity of major donors. Using storytelling and tying gifts to your mission helps paint a compelling picture of the tangible impact your nonprofit and donors make in the lives of your constituents.

While donation requests are a big part of your communications, you’ll need to diversify your messaging (emails, letters, calls, invitations) beyond asking for financial support. Be sure to include reminders about:

  • Upcoming events
  • Updates on your latest projects
  • Quarterly updates and annual reports
  • Donor surveys and feedback mechanisms
  • Grant or matching gift opportunities
  • Press or community recognition
  • Holiday greetings, gratitude communications, or celebratory updates

Using multi-channel communications, outside of a financial ask, ensures a regular cadence of major donor outreach and helps any donor feel like they are a valued part of your efforts, successes, and results.

2. Organize an exclusive event.

An in-person or virtual event can help major donors feel seen and appreciated. Plus, this gives your nonprofit a great opportunity to deepen connections on a more personal level.

For example, let’s say you’re hosting a silent auction. According to the OneCause guide to planning a silent auction, strategies such as encouraging your staff and volunteers to mingle will keep attendees more engaged. Enrich your major donors’ experience by offering VIP perks like special experiences, live recognition opportunities, curated tours and more.

This is a great way to not only engage major donors, but motivate them to participate in the fundraising at hand. As a result, you’ll engage them in your event, hopefully stir up the competitive bidding juices, and execute a successful charity auction.

You can also host a year-end dinner or holiday party with your major donors. At this event, it’s a good practice for your nonprofit to highlight your current fundraising efforts, progress to annual goals, and how major donors have or can still make an impact in helping you achieve your goals.

Ensure that staff or board members are present to speak individually with each major donor. Thank them for their involvement and talk to them to understand what motivates them, where their passions lie, and how they are involved in creating impact in the world. Bottom line: take the time to get to know them as people, not just donors.

You can also take this opportunity to ask your major donors for feedback. Since these donors are passionate about your cause, they likely have ideas on new projects or strategies your organization can explore. Not only will this benefit your nonprofit, but collecting their feedback will help major donors feel recognized and valued.

3. Express donor appreciation in a variety of ways.

While thanking major donors in-person is effective, you should go the extra mile to really express your gratitude. A major donor’s support made a huge impact in your organization’s budget, so it’s essential that you recognize them for their contributions in meaningful ways.

Some of the best ways to express appreciation include:

  • Writing handwritten notes. Handwritten thank-you notes have an added personal touch that helps donors feel valued. Make sure to address your thank-you notes to the recipient and reference their specific contribution and the impact it made. This will help donors understand how their support translates to meaningful change in the community.
  • Spotlighting donors. To honor major donors in a public way, you can feature them in your email newsletters or give them a shoutout on your social media platforms. According to Kwala, you can create engaging graphic designs that bring attention to your major donors and the significance of their contributions. This will make donors feel special and truly valued by your organization.
  • Giving tangible gifts. Your nonprofit can give a gift back to your major donors to show your gratitude. For example, your nonprofit can send major donors your merchandise; not only will this help donors feel appreciated, but it’s also a great marketing opportunity to help spread the word about your mission. Once everyone sees your major donors in your merchandise, they’ll be eager to learn about your mission!

Donors will have different preferences for how they like to be recognized, so keep this in mind as you get to know them. As you steward relationships over time, you’ll get a better sense of how donors want to be valued.


Whether you’re a seasoned organization or a new nonprofit, your major donors play a huge role in your nonprofit’s fundraising strategy. Building relationships with them is essential to long-term success.

Get to know your major donors personally and demonstrate that your nonprofit truly values their contributions. By engaging your donors, you can cultivate lasting relationships and reach your fundraising goals.

About the Author: Kelly Velasquez-HaguePhoto of Kelly Velasquez-Hague wearing a red outfit with trees in the background. She is also wearing an orange and green scarf.

Kelly Velasquez-Hague is the Director of Content Marketing for OneCause. She brings over 20 years of fundraising, nonprofit management, and sales/marketing experience to her role at OneCause. As a member of the OneCause sales and marketing team, Kelly manages all of the company’s content strategy and execution. She is passionate about empowering great missions and loves that her current role allows her to continue to help nonprofits reach new donors and raise more funds for their cause.

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