You may not care one bit about professional football. Even if you do, you probably aren’t overly concerned about the off-season trades and signings of multi-millionaire players. This blog post isn’t going to convince you otherwise.

However, I recently read a detailing of the lengths that the Minnesota Vikings leadership went to in order to attract Quarterback Kirk Cousins to be a part of their organization.

Here’s an excerpt from Bleacher Report:

To sell Cousins on the Vikings, general manager Rick Spielman didn’t meet him in his office in Minnesota. He met Cousins in Atlanta, where Cousins was staying, and accompanied him, his wife, Julie, their infant son, Cooper, his father, Don, and his mother, MaryAnn, to Minneapolis on a private jet.

When Cousins’ parents arrived at their hotel room, they found Vikings jerseys for each of them with their last name stitched on the back. Julie had a jersey waiting in her hotel room as well, and a gift basket full of Vikings swag—baby clothes, including a jersey for Cooper, a sippy cup, a toy football and glassware. For their Goldendoodle Bentley, there was a Vikings dog collar, bandana and leash. Also in the basket were Minnesota specialty items such as candles and coasters.

At the practice facility, team officials showed Cousins the locker that could be his. The nameplate read “Kirk Cousins 8.” Hanging in the locker was a gift—a Vikings jersey with his name, as well as a team duffel bag with Vikings sweatpants, shorts, long-sleeve shirts, short-sleeve shirts and hats. During a tour of U.S. Bank Stadium, another Cousins locker with a jersey was waiting for him. In the locker room, one set of TVs played his highlights and the other set had a still shot of Cousins wearing a Vikings uniform.

The team also presented Cousins with an iPad that played a video highlighting the team, the ownership and the region.

“It’s very different from the Redskins,” Don Cousins says. “The Vikings clearly wanted him. They did everything to make Kirk and Julie and for that matter, MaryAnn and I, feel welcome and wanted. They could not have sent a stronger message.”

Pretty impressive, right? So if you’re in fundraising or part of a nonprofit in any capacity, what can you learn from this.  

Here are 5 takeaways:

1. “He met them” where they were:

Proximity matters. Clearly, coming to where your donors are is a powerful first impression that they matter. As this Harvard Business Review article explains, face-to-face requests for donations are 34 times more likely to succeed than an email request. While that might fall under a “Captain Obvious” heading, I’m amazed at how many nonprofits put more energy and resources into their email newsletter than setting FTF appointmeakents with major gift prospects. Additionally, as the Bleacher Report article details, effort was put into the meeting. While your private jet may not be available, offering to meet at the donor’s home or in the breakroom of their office can go a long way in sending the right message.

2. “Last name stitched on the back”

Personalization matters. It’s one thing to quickly dump a bunch of boilerplate brochures onto the lap of a major gift prospect. It’s something else completely to understand ahead of time what this person/couple/corporation is truly interested in, what speaks to them, what would compel them. This takes homework. Rick Spielman (Vikings GM) knew everyone who was coming, knew their names, knew the dog’s name, knew there was a baby, etc. Yes, you are there to talk about your mission, but make sure you are gathering data that you can use to place the donor inside your mission.  Don’t present your mission/need as though it were a museum exhibit that the donor can simply walk by and appreciate.

3. “During a tour..”

Tangibility matters. Imagine if the Vikings GM flew down to Atlanta, rented out a Starbucks and had the whole Cousins family there, jerseys and all. He came to them and brought personalized items, but something would feel hollow about it. The fact that Kirk Cousins could see his jersey in the context of his locker and in the context of the Vikings stadium certainly went a long way in helping him understand that he and his talents were wanted and needed. A tour of any kind is critical. Tour of your location. Tour of where your mission recipients are located. Testimony of mission success. Essentially, engaging as many of prospect’s senses is critical.

4. “The Vikings clearly wanted him”

Relationship matters. Major gift consultant Claire Alexrad says this about the major donor relationship building process: “Once I get to know you, I’m not going to want to continue knowing you unless I feel you love me. Or at least really appreciate me.” (Read more here). Kirk’s dad, Don Cousins, had only one takeaway from everything he saw:  They want my son. We all want to be wanted and donors are no different. If you execute the first three points above well, it will go along way in helping your prospect feel as though this is a relationship and not just a transaction of funds.

5. “They could not have sent a stronger message”

Clarity matters. Don, and presumably Kirk, were not confused by what they experienced. It was clarity, ultimately, that led to an easy decision. From the first minute, the Vikings GM had a plan. It was a well-executed, and well-funded plan, but most importantly, it was a plan with a single goal: make Kirk feel wanted. Claire Axelrad goes on to say, “Develop an individualized cultivation plan with steps along the way. Go back to your research and to what floats your particular donor’s boat. Build their plan accordingly.” The Vikings GM truly understand what would matter to Kirk and he orchestrated his plan accordingly.

6. BONUS: What, isn’t just offering you $84 million enough?

What the excerpt above doesn’t reveal is that the Vikings ultimately offered Kirk an $84 million contract to become their next quarterback. Couldn’t Rick Spielman have saved himself a lot of time and just called Kirk up and said, “Do you want $84 million?” Similarly, can’t fundraisers just say, “Hey look at this need! It’s huge! Give us money!” What Rick (and successful fundraisers) understand is that it’s their job to connect the need (and the benefits of fulfilling that need) directly to the emotional center of the person they are working with. Smart people don’t choose jobs just because of the paycheck. Smart donors don’t choose charities just because of the need.

Go out and help create lasting relationships with your future major donors with a focus on proximity, personalization, tangibility, relationships and clarity. Compelling mission + personalized connection will provide you a successful major gifts program.

donor love and loyalty

Andrew Cecil

Andrew Cecil

Senior Account Executive at Bloomerang
Andrew Cecil is a Senior Account Executive at Bloomerang. From his unique background which includes seven years in software design and support and seven years on the front lines of a faith-based nonprofit, Andrew has developed strengths in collaborative team building, project management, and process improvement. His leadership experience includes roles in technical management, software development, and customer training.