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By DonorSearch

In all of the discussion around trending fundraising methods, there’s one method that’s reigned supreme for years on end— major supporter stewardship. Major gifts are those that nonprofit fundraisers dream of, the gifts that allow organizations to truly make an impact. However, if your nonprofit has never sat down to create a strong major gifts campaign strategy (or your current strategy is lackluster),  you’re unlikely to secure this type of essential gift. Major gifts are often a large investment for the supporters making them, and it’s understandable that there can be some caution on their end when doing so. It’s up to your organization to build relationships with these supporters and bring those major gifts across the finish line. We’ve outlined five tips to help your organization obtain major gifts, split out into the discovery and stewardship phases:
  • Discovering Major Supporters
    • Invest in discovery.
    • Complete prospect research.
  • Stewarding Major Supporters
    • Lead with gratitude.
    • Make them a part of the team.
    • Solidify your ask.
Major gifts are an essential aspect of any nonprofit’s multi-year strategic plan, something you can learn more about through this Averill Fundraising Solutions guide. However, for a look at just supporter stewardship and some tips to help you throughout the process, continue reading below.  

Discovering Major Supporters

Invest in discovery.

You may be tempted to— and even accustomed to, at this point— invest principally in trending fundraising methods such as online giving and social fundraising. However, it’s important to understand that those methods aren’t going to bring in the majority of gifts to your organization. Major giving, on the other hand, always will. Your top tier of supporters will provide over 80% of your total gifts, so it’s essential that you invest resources into stewarding this group. Because securing major gifts requires intensive relationship-building over a period of time, this can’t be an off-the-cuff, side effort. No, it will require a concerted effort and investment from your organization. To discover major gifts opportunities, invest in creating a strong major gifts strategy. This includes:
  • Appointing a major gifts officer. A major gifts officer is one staff member whose principal effort is discovering and securing major gifts. When one of your nonprofit’s staffers is able to focus on this effort alone, you’re likely to have increased success.
  • Investing in prospect research software. As you’ll see in the next step, prospect research is essential to discovering major gifts opportunities for your organization. Investing in software to do much of the data analysis for you will add efficiency to the process. Check out this guide to prospect research to learn more.
  • Hiring a fundraising consultant. A fundraising consultant is a third-party team member with expertise in areas such as strategic planning, capacity building, and major gifts acquisition— and their expertise can be valuable when building a strategy. Learn more about fundraising consultants and the fees associated with hiring one through this Averill guide.
To discover more major gifts opportunities for your organization, you need to invest in a strategy aimed at doing so.

Complete prospect research.

Prospect research is the process of examining supporter data for wealth and philanthropic indicators. This refers to a supporter’s financial ability to give to your organization and mental/emotional interest in doing so, respectively. Essentially, there’s often a direct correlation between those supporters with a high giving capacity and affinity and those supporters that make major gifts. In completing your prospect research, look for capacity indicators such as:
  • Real estate ownership.
  • Stock ownership.
  • Political giving.
  • Other business affiliations.
In addition, look for affinity indicators such as:
  • Past giving to your organization and others.
  • Nonprofit involvement outside of giving.
  • Personal information, such as hobbies, interests, and habits.
The supporters in your database with indicators in each grouping are those most likely to become major givers. Focus your stewardship efforts on those supporters first and foremost.  

Stewarding Major Supporters

Lead with gratitude.

When stewarding major supporters, you’re more than likely going to start with names already in your database— people that have already given to your organization. It naturally follows, then, that you should begin with a thank-you. There’s a reason you’ve singled out the potential major supporters that you have, and it’s probably because they have a record of giving to your organization in the past. Before sending out a single solicitation, ensure those supporters understand how grateful you are for their past efforts. This could mean sending out personalized supporter thank-you letters or even having a staffer call that person to express their gratitude verbally. You could even organize a thank-you lunch involving the potential major giver and one of your board members! When it comes to stewarding major supporters, the more personal and impactful you can be with gratitude— the better. The key here is that these supporters should feel justly appreciated for their gifts to your organization. They need to understand that by giving, they’re truly making an impact. Once they understand the effect they can have, they’ll be inspired to give even more.

Make them a part of the team.

During the regular gifts solicitation process, you’re mainly working to catch a potential supporter’s attention and inspire them to give. However, in the major supporter stewardship process, your focus is more on building relationships with people that already give to your organization. One great method is to make potential major givers feel as though they’re part of your nonprofit’s “team.” You can observe this tactic in-action during another popular nonprofit effort— capital campaigns— in which these organizations use a planning and feasibility study to get the opinion of key supporters prior to the campaign beginning. In terms of major supporter stewardship, this would mean organizing one-on-one conversations between potential givers and key leaders within your nonprofit. This could be your major gifts officer or even board members. During this conversation, give potential major supporters the chance to give their opinion on your nonprofit’s upcoming efforts. By doing so, they’ll feel more invested in your success (as their opinion played a role in it) and respected for their support. When these key supporters feel as though they’re part of the team, they’re more likely to give in larger amounts toward your common goal.

Solidify your ask.

Once you’ve put in the time building a relationship with this potential major giver— and only then— you can approach them with a major gift proposition.  However, making a major gift is a large investment regardless of that supporter’s financial standing. It’s essential that when you’re making the ask, you’re doing so in an informational manner. Here are a few best practices to check your major gifts ask:
  • Draw on what you’ve learned. Incorporate the information you’ve learned about the potential supporter during the stewardship process in making your major gift ask, whether interests, hobbies, or political affiliations. Consider preparing a suggested ask, as well, that’s both respectful and ambitious.
  • Make it an educational experience. Bring materials that directly tie the major gift to the work your nonprofit will complete using it. Emphasize the positive impact it will have, and bring physical reference materials to help build your case.
  • Plan for pushback. There’s a decent chance the supporter will want to negotiate amounts, and it’s up to you to plan for any deviations in the conversation from what you’d originally hoped. Anticipate any questions from the giver and prepare responses to whatever they might throw your way.
Crafting the perfect major gift ask can be a daunting task, especially if your organization isn’t used to asking for larger amounts. As you can see in this guide of the top fundraising trends for 2020, reflecting an understanding of your supporters’ interests may be more important than ever in the new year. This is another point where a nonprofit fundraising consultant can be a valuable team member in the charge.
Major gifts are a crucial component of any nonprofit’s fundraising, so developing a strong strategy for discovering and stewarding these givers is essential. With the above tips, you’ll be off to a great start when it comes to stewarding major supporters. Good luck!
5 Tips for Discovering and Stewarding Major Supporters