Operations

Major Gifts Fundraising — Strategies for Nonprofits

| Updated January 31, 2018

Major gifts require an investment of effort and patience, but persistence can pay off

There is no hard-and-fast definition of a major gift. At some smaller nonprofits, a major gift equals thousands of dollars, while for other nonprofits, a major gift means tens or even hundreds of thousands of dollars. Generally, major gifts make up the top five percent of donations given to your organization. The amount of a major gift should be within your reach and should be cause for celebration when you receive it.

Laura Ewing-Mahoney, co-founder and principal of Sage Advancement says, “More than 72 percent of private philanthropy, $390 billion in 2016, comes from individuals, much of it in the form of major gifts of $10,000 or more. Individual major gifts programs have a healthy ROI. In addition, major gift donors are often more flexible than other sources of support. Grant writing and special event fundraising usually require significant amounts of staff time and can often be restrictive, especially foundation grants.”

When should major gifts be solicited?

Before developing relationships with major donors, you'll need a clear fundraising plan. Whether it's a staff member who volunteered to support fundraising efforts, an enthusiastic board member or dedicated fundraising staff, anyone who's working with potential donors must be able to communicate your organizational mission, needs and the direct impact a major gift would have.

Your organization must also be prepared to invest the time to identify, create connections and recruit major donors. Major donors typically expect thorough education about the organization and its work.

How do nonprofits find major donors?

Major donors can be found in a few ways. They're often part of the personal networks of board members. Friends and family of existing donors are also a good resource.

How to identify and grow major donors

  • Identify your top giving individuals over past years. Then review these individuals with your staff and board and do some online research to assess their ability to continue to give and your shared connections. Ask for suggestions for new prospects.
  • Write up a strong case for support and a clear and compelling message regarding specific funding needs. Provide your outcome and impact data. Speak to both the heart and head of the prospective major gift donor.
  • Gather a team of influencers to help you reach out to major prospects. This means identifying staff and board members, loyal donors and volunteers who understand your organization and impact, as well as communicating your financial needs to a prospective major gift donor.
  • Schedule time to visit and get to know your prospects. This personal touch is essential to a successful major gifts effort. Document these visits and those who seem most likely to give. Follow up with these folks via newsletters, personal emails and phone calls until you make “the ask.”
  • Before asking for a major gift donation, create a true connection and ongoing dialogue with your prospects. Try to involve them in volunteering, schedule an on-site visit to meet staff and/or volunteers (and consumers, if appropriate). Make sure your major gift prospects know that they are more than just a wallet: you are inviting them to become part of your organization’s community.

How long does it take to attract a major donor?

It can take a long time to attract a major donor — and plenty of effort and patience. Fundraisers should expect to take time getting acquainted with potential major donors and, more importantly, introducing the organization. Often, major donors want to familiarize themselves with every facet of an organization before committing to a major gift.

How do major donors get inspired to support a nonprofit?

Knowhow Nonprofit recommends the "5 Ps" as a strategy for influencing major donors:

  • Passion. Major donors need to be emotionally engaged in the cause you represent.
  • Proposal. The "ask" should be targeted, with an issue or need defined and how a major the major gift will make resolution/improvement possible.
  • Preparation. What outcomes will the major gift enable? Show you're ready to put the gift to work right away.
  • Persuasion. Be sensitive to your donors. Take their questions or requests seriously and honor the perspective they bring.
  • Persistence. Cultivating major donors is a long process. Stick with it, be flexible and keep the goal in mind.

What's the best way to maintain a relationship with a major donor?

Each donor has a unique giving profile and it pays to have an individual plan for each of your organization's major donors. Details in each individualized profile should include what types of fundraising events donors prefer (if any), whether they typically offer input on projects they support, and how much information they expect about the projects their gifts fund.

MissionBox editorial content is offered as guidance only, and is not meant, nor should it be construed as, a replacement for certified, professional expertise.

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