Jaclyn Moore reveals how the Baker IDI Heart and Diabetes Institute is stewarding donors acquired through direct mail and helping them lift their giving to the next level.

PipelineIn 2009 the Baker IDI Heart and Diabetes Institute was created through the merger of The Baker Heart Research Institute and the International Diabetes Institute (IDI). The organisation had a history dating back to 1926, and a combined database of 17,000 supporters. Many of them had come on board through a raffle program so were giving lower amounts. The group of higher value donors was declining. We needed to feed the database before revenue and donor numbers went backwards.

So in 2011 the fundraising team asked the board for an investment in donor acquisition. A five-year strategy was developed to build a sustainable revenue stream based on establishing a regular giving program. Phone, then direct mail acquisition was commenced, based on previous experience that this was the feeder for finding major donors and bequestors.

For us, being able to move new donors up the ladder from direct mail has come down to three things.

1: Breaking down silos

When I joined the organisation in 2012, our fundraisers – like many others – worked in silos. For example the major gifts team worked separately from the bequest team. We needed to develop communication and collaboration between our teams but not take away individuals’ responsibilities.

It took a year to help people get on the same page about where we were heading in terms of our overarching fundraising strategy, so they weren’t working against, and in competition, with each other. This involved helping them understand it would assist their own progress if we worked closely together.

It is also important that donors only see one organisation with a consistent voice that doesn’t vary whether contact is made by staff working in direct mail, bequests or major giving.

2: Establishing streams for higher-value donor care

A traditional approach in major gift fundraising is to initiate contact with a high-net-worth individual through a peer link. While the organisation does find major donors this way, our focus is on our database and tactical stewardship of people who have demonstrated a propensity to give to us.

When we were working in silos, the direct mail team would give the same attention to a $500 donor as the major giving team gave to a $10,000 donor. So we stepped back and looked at existing practices, then put in place a structured program across the board. This has tiers for different giving levels so donors feel they are appreciated and also they are encouraged to step up to the next level.

Processes and business rules were developed to categorise higher value donors based on their giving history and their capacity to give. When we receive a $250 gift – to a direct mail appeal or by phone – it is a flag for us to do some quick Google research to learn about the donor’s lifestyle, the causes and organisations they give to, and their giving levels.

Those who give $250-$999 are stewarded within our mid-value donor program. They receive handwritten notes and thank-you phone calls. Donors giving $1,000-$4,999 are also handled by our direct mail team, but get more personalised mail packs and a dedicated staff member looks after them with phone calls.

If our research has shown a higher value donor has the capacity to give over $5,000, they are handled by a major gift manager who works on additional giving opportunities for them.

3: Staying in touch and honouring preferences

We don’t exclude higher value or major donors from our appeals or our bequest program by default, unless they ask us to do so. I believe this regular contact helps our donors feel more engaged.

That said, we personalise the journey so it’s appropriate to the person. One new supporter gave $50,000 as her first gift. She indicated she didn’t want the attention of the major donor officer and preferred getting the mail packs, to which she continues making $50,000 gifts but we personalise the letters she receives using the same story as the main pack.

Another lady began making gifts of around $1,000. In a few years that jumped to $10,000 then $20,000. To get to know her better, we invited her to meet our researchers, asked about her interests and passions, then prepared a major gift proposal based on those and she gave $200,000.

34% growth in mid-value donors

It took two years before these changes led to an improvement in fundraising income (see Table A). In the same period, our pool of confirmed, intended and considering bequestors has more than doubled. We had an inefficient constituent relationship management system (CRM) that we have recently upgraded and now we plan to systematically track our performance and progress.

Measurement shows our stewardship program is working, and is giving us information on what touch points and levels of recognition help lift people to the next band up. This analysis will guide future adjustments to the program.

Setting up our reporting and business rules, and gaining staff buy-in, has taken about two years. Now we are ready to report back on achievements of the fundraising team and celebrate them.

Table A: Baker IDI growth in higher value donors in the last three years

Gift band

Growth in donor numbers

Growth in value

$250 to $999



$1,000 to $4,999




Jaclyn Moore is Executive General Manager, Community & Corporate Relations at Baker IDI Heart and Diabetes Institute.


Image courtesy of artur84 at FreeDigitalPhotos.net

Subscribe to access this article.

Continue reading your article with an F&P subscription

Join with other top fundraisers to receive insight, analysis and inspiration to help you raise more funds.

subscribe now for $1

Cancel anytime.

Already a subscriber? LOGIN HERE