You want a smokin’ major gifts program, don’t you?
Of course you do. You want to light those babies on fire!
Better put, you want to ignite your donor’s passions, light the fire in their bellies, and help facilitate the type of philanthropy that will be a win/win/win – for you, your donors and the vision your organization seeks to attain.
You can’t do this without nurturing a pipeline that lights your donors’ sparks of interest, fans the flames and patiently waits until ignition happens.
Sure, you could just light little fires. Fires that self-extinguish pretty quickly. But these aren’t the fires that will sustain you and keep you warm over the long haul.
That’s why every nonprofit, no matter your size, cause or longevity, needs to build a major gifts pipeline.
Otherwise, you’ll have nothing to smoke!
Want to learn how to stop running on fumes?
Let’s Build Your Major Gifts Pipeline in 10 Steps!
Major gifts from individuals represent the single greatest potential source of revenue growth for non-profits – by far — so fundraising success will come through improved execution and management of major gift strategies. Nonprofits of any size can do this!
If you’ve got donors, you’ve got the raw material for a major donor program. Follow these 10 steps to identify, qualify, cultivate, ask and steward your way to fundraising success. There’s no more cost-effective way to ensure your long-term sustainability.
1. Build a Major Gifts Team
Major gifts is a team sport. If your leaders aren’t on board, and aren’t willing to lead, why should donors follow? Leaders must give and they must ask. This applies to staff and volunteers alike.
- Enlist your CEO and selected board leaders
- Show them how much potential money is out there
- Assure all key players are committed
- Create clear jobs for everyone: identifying, strategizing, opening doors, hosting cultivation events, soliciting
- Meet individually with team members to set clear goals for each
- Meet with your team often to maintain momentum
Things your board members must do:
- Act as ambassador
- Act as advocate
Things your development director or major gift officer must do (make sure they’re qualified):
- Enjoy talking with people
- Get out of the office
- Be self-motivated, optimistic and inspired
- Be organized
- Like to ask
Best practices for full-time MGO
- 2-3 visits before an ask
- 50 – 70% close ratio
- 2 – 3 face-to-face solicitations/month
- 12 – 15 face-to-face visits/month
2. Determine Your Major Gift Amount
This varies from organization to organization, and will depend on your budget and fundraising goal.
At one organization where I worked, our major gift amount went up from $250 to $10,000 during my tenure there (though we still, unofficially, gave a serious look to every $1,000+ donor).
Take a look at your average gift; then begin by looking for donors already giving at or above this level. You can pull data from the past three – five years (depending on your size and history), and begin with those who’ve given a single gift at your major gift amount. Then look at donors who’ve given cumulatively at your major gift level in any of those years. If you don’t find enough folks, you may have to go down to a somewhat lower level of cumulative giving. Sort them by recency and amount, placing the highest and most recent givers at the top of your list.
Branch out to include those you think might be inclined to give at this level based on a number of factors you’ll use to build your major gift prospect list.
3. Create a Prospect List/Not from Scratch
Your prospect list is your fundamental tool for your major gifts program.
You likely have plenty of donor prospects, without having to go outside and look for prospects who aren’t connected to you. They’re hiding in plain sight! You just haven’t reached out to them. You’ve neglected them.
Begin with insiders rather than folks who may be rich, but don’t have any interest in what you do. Or folks no one knows, so you’ve no obvious way to connect with them.
Small current donors with capacity may be better than “whale” donors with no connection to you or your cause.
A good prospect is someone who has all three of the following:
- Linkage — they’ve connected with you in the past, or you’ve got a way to connect with them through one of your insiders.
- Interest – they’ve demonstrated a belief in your mission
- Ability – they have capacity to make a major gift
Rather than beginning by looking at capacity, it’s best to begin with prospects with whom you’ve already got a foot in the door.
Once you’ve assessed giving inclination based on linkage and interest, you can begin to look at capacity. You can screen for capacity using paid tools and/or interviews or screening meetings with current leadership volunteers.
Next you want to develop a prospect portfolio. 150 is the ceiling for full-time MGO. If you do other things, your portfolio will be smaller.
4. Research/Qualify Your Portfolio
Don’t just put everyone who gave more than your major gift amount into your list. There are a number of reasons this is a bad idea:
- They aren’t really prospects for larger gifts
- They won’t respond to your attempts to cultivate them.
- You don’t have resources to cultivate them, so they’ll end up getting less TLC rather than more.
The reason for qualifying a donor is that just because a donor meets a certain dollar figure or wealth screening indicator does not necessarily mean the donor wants to be part of a major-gifts program or relate on a personal basis.
Begin with your preliminary list with the objective of creating a tiered list – A, B and C – with your most likely prospects at the top. Start reaching out to these folks by introducing yourself, thanking the donor for their past support and asking if they would like to become more involved with your organization. Try to set up in-person meetings with as many donors as possible at the top of the list. Speak to the rest on the phone. Make it your goal to find out more about who they are and what inspired their involvement with your organization. You’ll find some are responsive, while others are not. If folks are not responsive after several attempts, move them off your list. They won’t respond to major donor cultivation. Keep them on your annual appeal list, of course. For folks who are responsive, make a note of what you learned and begin to develop personalized cultivation plans for each individual.
5. Set Revenue Goal/Create Cultivation and Solicitation Strategy
Once you’ve got a qualified prospect list:
- Tier your portfolio
- Determine revenue goals for each donor. Set realistic goals, but make sure they’re big enough you’ll reach your overall fundraising goal.
- Develop individualized cultivation plans with steps along the way.
- Create an database report or Excel spreadsheet with monthly actions designed to create deeper engagement.
- Use a mix of engagement strategies, understanding that different folks learn differently. Some will respond best in person. Others like to read. Others like to listen. Others like to see, feel and touch.
Once you have a goal, you’ll need a strategy that outlines a year’s worth of “moves” and “touches” for each donor. Your goal here is to create a climate for donors to fall in love with you and your cause.
6. Build Continuous Learning into Cultivation
“Cultivation” is not something you do to donors. It’s something you do with them.
This requires you to have a clue as to what they like to do. So set up some systems that will help you find out! Remember, people like to be known. It’s up to you to learn enough about them so they feel you know them.
Think strategically about:
- Who would interest them?
- Who should they meet with?
- What programs would be of greatest interest?
- What projects would match their interests?
You can also stalk them. Legally.
- Set up Google alerts so you’ll see articles and news in which they’re mentioned.
- Add them to your personal LinkedIn network.
- Use Twitter and Pinterest to follow them.
- Like their company on Facebook.
- Use Zillow to find out about their real estate ownership.
- Use PoliticalMoneyLine.com to find out if they’re major political contributors
- Examine how they interact and behave in other ways with your organization (e.g., volunteering, advocating online, attending programs and events).
7. Have Someone Hold You Accountable
To paraphrase my favorite management guru, Peter Drucker, the best laid plans are meaningless if they don’t degenerate into work!
Don’t allow your major donor prospects to fall to the back burner.
- If you’re the only development staff person, insist your boss meet with you weekly to hold your feet to the fire.
- If you’re a one-person shop, get someone on your board to do this.
- If you’re a board member, ask your president or staff leader to do this.
8. Clarify Your Case for Support and Tailor it to Your Prospect
Know all your programs and services so you can speak about them in detail. The stories behind the numbers. The impact. Measurable, if possible. What your programs cost. Their overhead. What your program staff need to do their jobs effectively and meet all the needs presenting themselves.
Major donors want to give specific amounts to specific projects to accomplish specific outcomes.
Make it a point to clearly outline:
- Need in the community
- How you specifically address this need
- How the donor can specifically help
9. Start Asking/With Passion
Have a strategy to determine when the time to ask is ripe. Beware of cultivation paralysis. At some point, this is all meaningless unless you bite the bullet and make the ask. It’s actually disconcerting to your donors if you cultivate them endlessly; then never do them the favor of asking them to do something that will bring great meaning to their lives.
Donors willing to be cultivated want to give.
Make sure you’ve got a relevant story to tell. Make your “opportunity” exciting by tapping into your personal passions and matching them to your donor’s. Show how you know this is something they’d enjoy doing. Let them talk! Don’t jump in with a reduced ask. Give folks the opportunity to make a stretch gift that will make them feel like a hero!
10. Adopt an Attitude of Gratitude
Follow up meaningfully by thanking and reporting. Frequently, and with feeling.
Sadly, giving is not always its own reward. You have to nurture the donor’s good feeling if you want them to sustain it (and want to give again). For major donors, go the extra mile. Pick up the phone immediately and call them. Remind them of the impact their gift will have.
Similar to thanking in importance is reporting. Don’t miss this step. It’s critical you close the loop and show donors they really, truly were the heroes they hoped they would be. Do this in ways that will delight and wow your donors, so they’ll continue to think you’re really special. This is what makes them want to give again. And to give even more.
And, by the way, even if your prospect says “no” today, follow up with gratitude for their time and past support. Remember, there’s always tomorrow.
You never want to be the one to close the door.
Sometimes blowing smoke can be a good thing.
Because, you know what they say, right?
Where there’s smoke there’s fire!
Want to Learn More about Major Gifts Fundraising?
I’ll be covering all these steps, and more, in great detail in my upcoming Winning Major Gifts Fundraising Strategies online course. It’s 8 weeks packed with all the tools you need to put systems in place to make a huge difference in your fundraising bottom line. Everything I’ve learned from 30 years of in-the-trenches practice. I’ve been in your shoes, I’ve done it all, and I know what works/doesn’t work. I want you to know too, because I know you can ask for and receive transformative gifts!
Major gifts isn’t rocket science. It’s just a process most of us aren’t taught. That’s what I’m here for. To help take the mystery, and misery, out of major gift fundraising. Sure, you can read articles here and there. Or try to wing it. But why not learn it all in one fell swoop, systematically, in a method guaranteed to support you and your team today and for years to come?
Whether you’re completely new to major gift fundraising, or just want to strengthen your current program, you’ll find the knowledge you need to succeed.
Stop struggling so hard to figure this out on your own. While you’re struggling, you’re not raising the funds you need right now. This year, resolve to invest in yourself and your organization.
- If you’re already enrolled in Clairification School, log in, grab the ‘Early Bird’ discount for Clairification School students, and save $300 before August 11th!
- Not yet enrolled? You can still save by enrolling simultaneously both in School and in the Course!
Image by Ryan McGuire from Pixabay.