Did you know that most of your fundraising total comes from a small selection of your donors?
It’s true. Many of your funds are provided by a select few donors: your major donors.
They give the largest gifts…the potential game-changers.
Whether you are new to major giving or are looking for ways to maximize your efforts, try out some of the strategies detailed here. They are specifically designed to help you improve your major donor fundraising efforts.
1. Perform a Prospect Screening
We cannot lead off a discussion about major giving on a blog all about prospect research with any other tip but performing a prospect screening.
Prospect research is your link between a vast donor pool and a specific list of prospects to pursue to become major donors. A prospect screening will take your list of donors and determine if they have key characteristics that most commonly identify major gift prospects.
Those characteristics include:
- Past giving to your nonprofit.
- Past giving to other charitable organizations.
- Political giving.
- Real estate ownership.
- Involvement with your nonprofit and/or other nonprofits.
Those five factors each either speak to major donor giving ability and/or willingness.
2. Look into Planned Giving Potential
Planned giving is a great avenue to still receive a major gift-sized donation, even when a donor does not have the present financial flexibility to do so.
They are gifts decided on in the present and allocated in the future, often through a will after the donor has passed away. How does that relate to major donors? Well, planned and major gifts are usually of equal size. If anything, planned gifts tend to be larger. They also tend to be less prevalent.
If your organization allows for a certain extent of cross-pollination between your major and planned giving entities, both programs should benefit. You might find planned giving donors with the capacities to leave a gift right now, who were never presented with right opportunity. Likewise, there might be a major giving candidate that would be better suited for planned giving.
Donor segmentation is often beneficial, but no giving level is an island. Make sure donors have the boat to cross into a different level.
3. Start a Major Donor Society
When you request a major gift, you’re asking for a big commitment. Major donors need to be carefully cultivated leading up to the solicitation and just as carefully stewarded after the gift has been made. If you want to secure a substantial donation in the first place and then want that donor to stick around, you have to take the right steps to make the donor feel like he or she is part of something bigger.
One way to do that is to create a branded major donor society. Your major donor society will draw new major gifts in for a multitude of reasons, including:
- Exclusivity/inclusion: People like to be part of something unique and that is recognized as special. A branded major donor society has that kind of cache that many look for. The same logic applies to branding a monthly giving program, as well. Supporters want to feel more like they are part of something.
- Encourages donations of a certain amount: If your major donor society is defined by the same parameters as major gifts, it will encourage larger donations. Let me explain why. Imagine your major gifts are classified as anything over $20,000. A donor who wants to leave a large donation and is thinking in the $18,000 range will be more inclined to upgrade his or her gift to cross that $20,000 major gift threshold.
- Gives your organization opportunities for excellent stewardship: With a branded major donor society, you have a preset group to receive a series of major gift-related communications. You can have a certain drip email stream and send specific direct mailings. You can even host appreciation luncheons with the members and key leaders in your organization. To make donors feel more acknowledged, you can also throw in additional perks, like smaller giveaways.
Essentially, the society gives you a chance to build a community of major donors.
4. Hire a Major Gifts Officer and/or Team
If you are going to make major gifts a priority, which you should of course do, you need to hire a major gifts officer. As your program grows, develop an entire major gifts team.
Major gifts officers take the baton from the prospect researchers and shepherd the donors from acquisition to stewardship.
A major gifts officer will likely be responsible for:
- Handling major donor prospect files.
- Preparing informational materials.
- Working with marketing to make the best promotional materials possible.
- Corresponding with the board and other supporters to build the prospect base.
- Presenting major gift appeals to prospects.
- Making the major gift proposal.
- Following up with major donors to continue the relationship.
- Seeking upgrade opportunities when appropriate.
As I’m sure you can see, the role of a major gifts officer is not to be taken lightly. You’ll want an experienced fundraiser in the role. You need someone who is comfortable with taking the lead on projects and excels in a team environment.
5. Host Events Catered to Major Donor Acquisition
An event catered to major donors gets a lot of people capable of making a large donation in one room together, so that they can learn more about your organization, the cause you serve, and the kind of impact their gifts could have, all while your fundraisers simultaneously get to know the prospects.
These events are typically galas or large live auctions and tend to be on the more formal side of the spectrum. Use the event to meet many of your prospects and get a sense of how open they are to making a major contribution. Then your fundraisers can focus on the very top candidates with the highest likelihood of becoming donors.
6. Leverage the Connections of Your Board
When it comes to major donors, don’t overlook your board. Even if they are not major donors themselves, your board members often have the kind of connections you need to reach out to certain prospects.
An introduction from a trusted ally is going to get your major gifts officer in the door with donors faster than starting from scratch with cold calls. People give to organizations they trust and you want to build the foundation for that as early as possible.
You might even consider including the specific board member throughout the entire cultivation and solicitation process.
7. Always Share Specific Results
Donors always want to have as tangible results and outcomes as possible. They deserve it, too. They are giving you their hard-earned money, and they should know what it is going to accomplish.
When it comes to major donors, this is even more pivotal, as the funds they are donating are that much bigger.
As you make your case, include your nonprofit’s accomplishments and the actual mission-based results of major gifts in the past. Show them that $XX, XXX helped you accomplish a very action-oriented task. Major donors want to know that they are donating to a nonprofit that knows exactly what to do with their gift.
They’re also invested in the big picture, so as you zoom out from the nitty-gritty, talk about the effect that gifts of a certain size have on your organization as a whole. As in, “Since we were able to complete that action-oriented task, this community/group/school was able to…”
You want the path of their funds to be as transparent as possible.
8. Get Major Donors Engaged as Volunteers as Well
Take your transparency to the next level by putting major donors in the thick of it. Ask them to volunteer their time so that they:
- Can learn more about your organization.
- Get a better understanding of your mission and your work.
- Meet more of your important staff members.
- See the ground-level impact their funding could have.
All four of those points boil down to one idea. Volunteerism helps donors bond with your organization. That is true for all small and mid-level donors as well as major donors.
9. Show Major Donors Their Return on Investment
Sharing specific results and showing major donors the work of your organization (points seven and eight) function best in conjunction with a frank discussion of what a set amount of funds will accomplish.
Let the prospect’s interests inform the project that you pitch to them to support. As you present the project, remember to communicate how much you would need, what that money would accomplish in a tactile sense (with as much detail as you are capable of providing), and what the overall end result would be.
10. Study Your Major Gift Metrics
Is your organization good about tracking its performance metrics? It needs to be!
The best way to improve all of your various organizational endeavors is to track and evaluate your progress. You need to know what you are doing right and what could use some improvement.
Major giving is a piece of that puzzle.
Take a look at:
- Asks made
- Gifts secured
- Average major gift size
- Major donor retention rate
- And more.
Take your self-assessment seriously and you’ll see serious results in return.
11. Prepare Yourself for the Long-Haul
You cannot rush major gift solicitation. Sure, you might occasionally encounter a prospect who is okay with jumping right into the gift without asking questions, but those situations will be few and far between.
Instead, enter into each cultivation with the knowledge that you’re in it for the long-haul. Even after you secure the gift, if you want to keep that donor returning and incrementally upping their gift size, your stewardship will have to be just as meticulous as your cultivation and solicitation.
As you can see, there’s no one-size-fits-all way of going about your major donor fundraising efforts. Instead, vary your approach and practice a collection of strategies to make the most of your high-quality prospects and donors.