The Heart of the Gift

Dear Christian Radio…

For those of you with siblings, have you ever uttered these words?  “I’m Mom’s favorite!” If I’m honest with you, my twin and I believe our older brother is Mom’s favorite, but I digress. By very definition, favorite is such a lovely word. It means “a person or thing that is especially popular or particularly well liked by someone.”

Hopefully, you are blessed with various levels of donors to your ministry. At PAR, we categorize ours by gift level. We have friends who give single gifts, those who are monthly iPartners, those who are day sponsors, and major donors. Let’s spend a few minutes focused on the major donors.

If you were to choose favorites, your major donors should certainly fall within the scope.  These friends choose to support your ministry for a variety of reasons, and often with larger gifts or faithful partnership. Common threads such as shared values, belief in your mission, connection with your team, service-orientation or shared passion for your local community are what motivates them to give.

Going a bit deeper, here are a few questions to consider when providing care for your major donors: 

Who should handle major donors?
I’m of two minds on this. Donor care is an all-team experience at PAR.  We have launched a higher level of donor engagement this year, involving every member of our team. That said, friends who give the highest level gifts should be hearing from your station GM personally. For us, this often looks like phone calls, notes/cards, coffee visits, or even a shared meal. Life is shared and relationships are built through ongoing communication and care. Keeping it real, passion has a half-life. Sometimes this is literally due to bandwidth. Your part-timer isn’t going to have the same vested interest in donor care that you do as the head of your organization. They simply don’t have the time or energy.

Is it okay to treat major donors as “special friends?”
Absolutely! These friends should be the first consideration if you have extra tickets to an event. They should be the first you approach if you know of a shared passion for a service opportunity. Often times, those who are generous with their money will be generous with their time if they share the same enthusiasm for a project. These friends can gift your organization with an array of insight, if you are willing to listen. Seeking their feedback–surveys and focus groups are a great tool for this–on what they like, dislike, or want more or less of has such value for your ministry. It’s likely that you are special to them; after all, they gave you their greatest asset: money. These donors will champion your cause. They will host tables at banquets and invite their friends. They will speak highly of your ministry and likely recommend it to others.

What are these donors expecting in return?
Let us never squander an opportunity to express gratitude to these friends–and really everyone, no matter the size of the gift! This can take many forms. As I referenced above, thank you notes are always appreciated. Forgive me as I momentarily climb on my soapbox here. It’s unforgivable to not acknowledge a gift from a major donor within a week of receipt.  Here at PAR, our Partner Services team regularly communicates via a weekly report, which lists all those who gave at the higher level. That list is then utilized by the GM to reach out to the friend who gave. Silence is not golden in this case. Express the gratitude in a timely fashion! Climbing down now…

Other ideas for engaging with major donors: Pictures that share highlights from a recent event are always fun. Information about community impact, mission-focus always has a high value and leaves any donor feeling as if their gift wasn’t squandered or in vain. Send videos that share the highlights of a recent project, or even a need within your ministry.  An annual report is merited, listing concrete results of their donations.

What should we provide that they are not expecting?
It’s always fun to lean in with ‘surprise and delight’ moments for these friends. At PAR, this has looked like anything from t-shirts, mugs, or free tickets, to journals, fuzzy socks, homemade Valentine cards, Christmas ornaments, devotionals, recipe books and calendars. Your team would benefit from brainstorming some fun ways you can give back to these generous friends. Some will see this as a waste of money, but most will see it as the intended expression of gratitude. And just a reminder: always set an annual budget for this so you are making good use of funds. 

Give voice to these champions of your ministry, as to how it has impacted their lives and their family. Some will be very comfortable and delighted to record a video, or cut a promo that will encourage others to consider giving to your organization. Allow your extroverts to shine!

What are the risks of under-serving the major donor?
Have you ever given a gift, to which you gave much consideration or expense, and never received a thank you from the recipient? I imagine your thoughts about that aren’t necessarily positive. A lack of gratitude, consideration, engagement and care lends one to think that he or she isn’t valued or worse, is taken for granted. Let us be people who view thankfulness as highly as we do on-air content, events, and goals. The real danger of under-serving major donors is that they will simply go away, and take their donations with them. Who could blame them?  It sounds simplistic, but I often say to our teams, “this person took the time out of their hectic life to write you a check, recommend you to a donor-advised fund, sign up for a matching gift, and suggest you to friends. The least you can do is find the time to write the thank you note or make the call. Taking time to listen to what’s important to these friends keeps your ministry relevant if you can act on what they communicate.

Dear Christian Radio…

Take some time to honestly assess areas in which your team might be falling short in providing care to major donors. Brainstorm ways you can improve engagement. Then, answer the questions below and launch your plan.

    1. Have you identified your major donors?
    2. What is your communication plan?
    3. How have you given these friends a voice?
    4. What should you keep doing?


Kayla Sanders
Vice President of Partner Services
Positive Alternative Radio

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