The Major Gift Process
Phase One: Prospect Identification
Prospect identification is exactly as it sounds: it’s the process of identifying possible major gift prospects.
A large part of prospect identification involves conducting prospect research. Within prospect research, major gift officers (or whoever does prospect research for high-level donors within your organization) focus primarily on wealth markers and philanthropic indicators.
A combined examination of wealth markers and philanthropic indicators will reveal both a prospect’s financial capacity to make a major contribution and their openness to doing so.
Philanthropic indicators speak to a prospect’s affinity for charitable work and your organization. Logically, a donor who has given in the past, who has been involved recently and frequently, and who has donated large sums over time is highly likely to donate a major gift in the future.
These indicators are what people typically think of when they consider prime candidates for major giving. Above all else, wealth markers are simply signals of someone’s financial capacity to give–just as philanthropic markers are a good indication of a prospect’s willingness to donate to charity.
Phase Two: Prospect Cultivation
Cultivation is your major gift officer’s time to not only connect with a prospect but learn more about that prospect so their eventual solicitation is more informed.
Phase Three: Donor Solicitation
Donor solicitation is possibly the most difficult–but arguably the most important–phase in the major gift process. It all hinges on the ask, which, let’s face it, is just plain hard to do.
No one, no matter how bold, enjoys asking for money, especially not when it’s tens of thousands of dollars (or more!). But in the end, the solicitation is what brings your nonprofit to the next level.
If you’ve done your due diligence, you will have amassed quite a bit of information on your prospects over the course of your relationship. Not just the concrete info that you’ve gleaned from prospect research, but also that intangible sense for who a person is and what makes them tick.
This is the sort of knowledge that will help you make your ask personal.
Again, by this point you will have performed wealth screenings and taken an in-depth look at past giving and other philanthropic indicators.
These prospect research findings will ultimately help you decide on a reasonable amount to ask for.
Of course, as with any other deal–and make no mistake, asking for a donation is a form of deal–you’ll want to start out with your highest request (within reason!) and whittle down to your ideal amount.
Find a happy medium where your donor feels comfortable and capable and you feel content.
A strong case comes along with strong support documents.
When you’re making your major gift ask, it’s important to have these pieces of collateral at your disposal. A fantastic example would be your one-page case for support.
Give potential donors evidentiary reasons to give to your cause. Let them know how their contributions could positively impact your mission.
In order to be truly successful in making the ask, it’s always a good idea to have a plan for what you’re going to say ahead of time.
In addition to mapping out your half of the conversation, you might also want to anticipate what the donor could say. You never want to enter into a major gift conversation unprepared for any eventuality.
Phase Four: Donor Stewardship
Launching a Major Gift Program
Steps to Getting Started
Major gift efforts require everyone on your team to be involved in some way, shape, or form.
As we mentioned earlier, a great technique for courting major donors is to introduce them to your organization’s executive director. Aside from that, you’ll need to have all the support from the leadership that you can get.
In addition to having your leadership on board, you’ll also want to have board members, fundraisers, prospect researchers, and even some marketers on your team.
The success of your major gifts effort relies on having all hands on deck at any given time.
What qualifies as a major gift will fluctuate not only from organization to organization, but also within your organization.
As you grow, your standards will naturally change. It’s important to update your standards every so often, as this standard will dictate the level of strategy given to cultivating and soliciting certain prospects over others.
You might be surprised by the number of major gift prospects that you already have within your existing donor base. Prospect research is the best way to find out who among them is likely to give a major gift.
Keep in mind that you should be scouting out prospects who have:
- A proven willingness to give (a history of giving to nonprofits).
- A demonstrated capacity to give (tangible wealth markers).
If those two key factors are in alignment, there’s a high likelihood that that person could be a major gift donor.
When a major gift donor gives to your organization, they expect to see tangible results from that contribution.
This means that they want to see how their gifts are effecting real change.
They also might expect some kind of program perks. Incentives for donating never hurt.
For instance, if a major gift donor gives a significant contribution to your capital campaign, they may want to have the opportunity to name the building they’re helping to fund.
In either case, your donors want to know that their major gifts are being used effectively.
Have your prospect researchers put together profiles on your candidates with recommended asks. Then divide the profiles among your fundraisers.
Each fundraiser should work in conjunction with your board and marketers to create the ultimate presentation for each of the prospects.
The next step is to begin the solicitation process. It’s time to make the ask!
Major gift donors are investing a lot in your organization. It only makes sense to reciprocate.
Because there likely aren’t an overwhelming number of major gift donors within your donor pool, you can absolutely take the time to cultivate meaningful relationships with each and every one of them.
You should, of course, send out acknowledgements as you would with any other donor. But you can also take it a step further with your major gift donors by:
- Scheduling check-in calls.
- Taking the time to really get to know them.
- Finding creative ways to recognize them.
- Sending them thank yous occasionally throughout the year, even when they haven’t donated recently.
- Corresponding about topics outside of asks and acknowledgements.
- And more!
Stewardship is one of the most important steps in the entire process. Make sure you have a firm plan in place for how you maintain relationships after the gift has been made.
It’s always a good idea to evaluate key performance metrics when implementing any sort of fundraising strategy.
It’s especially important to do so when you’re going through the major gift acquisition process.
You may want to pay particular attention to:
- Gifts secured.
- Average major gift size.
- Average giving capacity (of top donors).
- And more.
With these metrics in mind, you can assess your existing campaign and plan to improve your strategy in the future.