The Fundraiser’s Ultimate Guide
Tips from major giving experts on finding, engaging, and retaining major donors.
A major gift is an individual donation that is significant in amount to your organization’s operational budget.
The typical vision we have of a major gifts program is at a university, where they have dedicated officers who work with alumni. They cultivate individuals who can make a donation that may even justify having a building named after them.
As of 2015, there were 9,452 universities or colleges in the United States. There are 1.5 million nonprofit organizations. It’s time for us to re-envision major gifts for our everyday work and break down the mystique around how to obtain them.
If you’ve never had a major gifts program before, we’ll walk you through the steps on how to create one. If you’ve been managing your program for years, we’ll help hone and revitalize major gifts for the modern era.
1. What are major gifts?
The term major gifts is one that can send executive directors, development staff, and your board of directors into a tailspin. The reason isn’t the word gift. As fundraising professionals, we accept and understand what a gift is: something that helps fund our mission.
The issue is the word “major.” Every organization is going to define major differently so let’s keep things simple. A major gift is an individual donation that is significant in amount to your organization’s operational budget. It can be immediate (like a check) or it can be a planned gift (from a will or donor advised fund).
Breakout: What are your major gift levels?
Frame your major gift program as a set of resources dedicated specifically to a small group. These resources must absolutely draw on your mission’s strengths, which means you should start by looking at what makes your mission unique.
Ask yourself seriously — why do we need a major gifts program? Does your mission have any potential issues engaging with major donors who may not be personally affected by your services? Sometimes an organization is better served concentrating on an annual fund with smaller individual gifts and special events. Major gifts management is a serious undertaking, so identifying the reasons why you want to embark on this journey are vital before starting.
If you decide against a formal major gifts program, it’s still a good idea to work with donors investing larger amounts into your mission. A gift acceptance and stewardship policy should be the cornerstone of any development program, regardless of your organization’s size.
Sample Gift Acceptance Policies
Looking for a sample policy? The National Council of Nonprofits has some great resources for creating gift acceptance policies, including some samples from a few different types of nonprofits.
2. How to create a major gift program
There are a few steps to take before launching a major gifts program. The first is establishing whether or not you should even start a program. There are some fundraising basics that should be covered before moving into major gifts.
Have you read our annual fund guide?
Start with an internal capacity assessment of your organization’s ability to properly manage a major gifts program. Ask yourself internal questions such as:
- Do you have a mission statement?
- Are you financially stable?
- Do you regularly garner support from individuals?
A nifty resource to check out for this self assessment is www.AreYouReadyForPlannedGiving.com, which has a series of questions you can ask yourself before starting.
Once you establish that you’re ready, you can do a few things to get ready.
Get leadership on board
Without the support of your executive team and your board of directors, a major gifts program will fail almost immediately. You need the champions and faces of your organization to be able to act on the major gifts program you’ll be creating. The importance of having the buy-in of these stakeholders cannot be stressed enough. Getting them involved in the direction of the program should be your first step.
Your organization should also ensure there is a dedicated contact for your major gifts program. It may be your development director or it may be your executive director. At the least, ensure there is someone on staff who will be responsive to the questions during the solicitation process.
Define your major gifts
As we have established, there are many different definitions of major gifts. They can be immediate donations or pledges to your organization, or could be long-term beneficiary designations. The basics should cover a way to recognize donors at any time of their gift and policies and procedures for different types of gifts. Beyond cash gifts and traditional pledges, you should also make a policies and procedures guide around:
- Retirement Plans
- Life Insurance Policies
- Payable on Death Accounts
- Transfer on Death Assets
- Donor Advised Funds
According to major donor and planned giving expert Brian Sagrestano, JD, CFRE, the above items will account for 80% of your major gifts program.
Major Gifts vs. Planned Gifts
Brand your program
Just like each of your campaigns or programs that have dedicated areas on the website or specific brochures, you will want to develop branding specific to your major gifts program. Choose a theme that is consistent with your overall mission and create messaging that is relationship focused, not transaction focused.
Your marketing should have a year-long calendar, different strategies for multi-channel engagement. Consider building a specific section of your website or even a dedicated microsite for the more complicated aspects of planned giving, as well as brochures with reply cards.
3. Overall strategy and major gifts
As you roll out your major donor program, it is important to frame it alongside your other revenue streams. Remember that stewardship is bidirectional — no matter the size of the gift.
Any donation to your annual fund is an affirmation of the work that you’re doing, but there’s a special joy from larger gifts. All donors deserve respect, but there are specific strategies to obtain and maintain major donors.
Get as much data as possible
The single most important thing that your organization can do in regards to major donors is to collect as much data as possible to properly gauge your ask. At the very least, you should know:
- Your donor’s name (and nickname, if they have one)
- Addresses (and which they prefer for mailings)
- Preferred method of contact
Of course, more information never hurts. There’s value in knowing as much as possible about your donor, including: household relationships, friends, employment history, and organizational connections.
The more you have to give your development staff and solicitors, the higher the likelihood that your message will stand out above the rest once those asks are being made.
Track your organization’s interactions
One of the most embarrassing things that can happen with major donors is having several staff members doing the same prospecting. This can lead to multiple asks that might confuse or turn off the potential donor. Tracking your interactions in all forms is key, so ensure that each email, phone call, mailing, and meeting is logged in your CRM.
Create a solicitation plan with your annual fund committee to track who will make the ask when the time comes. Consider creating a custom field to track progress in your database.
Some donors have preferred times of the year they give (like bonus time at work) so make sure you take note. Proper planning and making sure personal attention is paid to the future donor is the key to success.
Give early, give often
When making your primary asks at the beginning of your annual fund, stress that recurring gifts are a feature that your organization offers. There is a growing amount of research that shows that donors are turning toward recurring gifts on a timeline comfortable to them. Make sure that your donors know that this is an option. Consider creating an appeal to encourage recurring giving or adding a checkbox on your solicitation materials that will be mailed at all points of your annual fund.
Establish a giving society
At a certain level of giving, donors expect recognition that goes beyond being listed in the annual report. One great way to do this is establishing a giving society, based on donations over a certain amounts.
When developing your giving levels for online forms, keep the idea of a giving society at the forefront of this discussion. It isn’t simply a number that people will donate at, but a special level of recognition. Make sure to include an area on your website that explains the giving society.
Stress that matching gifts from a donor’s company are a great way to get them to the next level of a giving society. This can also be said of soft credits. A nice touch may be an annual fund party at the conclusion of the year to celebrate members.
4. Best practices before you begin
This section was contributed by the major gift experts at DonorSearch. They’re a member of the Neon One partner network — and they provide awesome wealth screening and prospect research tools. Check it out before starting your major gifts program!
There are many components that go into creating and cultivating a major gifts program, which can be overwhelming for folks who are just starting. However, there are some best practices that new or old programs should take into account. Our friends at DonorSearch have put together the top items to keep in mind when starting your major gifts program.
Leverage the connections of your board
Your board members often have the kind of connections you need to reach out to certain prospects. Don’t overlook the people who are already within your organization.
When leveraging your board, be sure to:
- Assess prospects. Evaluate the connections already available to your board.
- Initiate the process. Ask your board members to reach out to key people in their networks. Their personal connection will go a long way when you’re courting major gift donors.
- Retain the connection. Consider including the board member who introduced you to the major donor.
Show major donors their ROI
Before a donor commits to a major gift, they’ll likely want to know what their return on investment would be.
Specifically, you’ll want to:
- Determine ROI for specific areas of interest. Pitch the programs with great results that also speak to your donor’s philanthropic interests.
- Be clear. Communicate how much you would need for your project and what that money would accomplish realistically. Be transparent with your numbers.
- Fit into the bigger picture. Your donor may not contribute to every facet of your organization, but showing them how their donation helps your overall goal can make them feel like they’re part of a bigger cause.
Always share specific results
Because they’re giving a substantial sum to your organization, your major gift donors understandably want transparency for how their money is going to be used. When choosing how to frame your results, consider:
- Day-to-day details. Show them the nitty-gritty, day-to-day details of the work their contribution is doing so that they can visualize their financial support in practice.
- Overall progress. Make it a priority to zoom out and look at the big picture, showing them how their contribution extends beyond a singular project.
- Their impact. Show them that their gift has made a large and lasting impact on your mission and the cause you serve. Give specific results or examples.
Engage donors as volunteers
Nothing gets donors (of all sizes) as excited or invested in giving to your organization as getting hands-on with your work. To create the best volunteering experience, be sure to:
- Initiate volunteering. Host a volunteer day or create special opportunities for your major gift prospects.
- Encourage active participation. If your major donor is interested in your volunteer work, they’ll be more engaged. Let them participate directly with the cause.
- Give tangible results. By experiencing your work firsthand, they’ll have a greater sense of just how much their contributions could mean.
Host events catered to major donors
If you’re still in the earlier stages of the cultivation process, it’s a good idea to host an event to get to know potential major donors better. Typically, these events are galas or live auctions. The benefits of hosting an event include:
- Pulling in prospects. Events like this, by nature, get a lot of people capable of making a large donation in one room together.
- Informing future donors. They can then learn more about your organization, the cause you serve, and the kind of impact their gifts could have
- Making the connection. Getting to know these donors a little better gives your fundraisers a clearer picture of who would be the top prospects to pursue.
By following these best practices, your organization will be able to create and maintain relationships that can sustain your organization’s mission for years to come.
1. Where to find major donors
So your organization has analyzed your capacity to manage a major donor program. You’ve started to prepare your materials for outreach. Your board members are ready to go.
So where are these people who will be giving you large sums of money anyway? We’ll dive into some strategies, but we can say with 100% certainty that the answer won’t be as easy as sending a letter to Bill Gates or Oprah.
The answer is in front of you
Many times, the answer is right under your nose. The ability to find major donors is within the donor data you should already have. It could be in an Excel spreadsheet or it can be in your donor database. Either way, use your donor data as a starting point.
You’ll need to be comfortable with some basic querying in order to maximize your reach for major donor cultivation. Since we followed Amy Eisenstein’s advice on how to define major gifts, we should be OK diving into the database for some parameters around individual giving amounts.
Start with the donors that gave $1,000 or more and run that list. Look at the last time they gave the gift as well — if it’s been more than 3 years, this isn’t an ideal candidate. If your organization doesn’t have any $1,000 or more donors, this also might be a good time to reevaluate whether you are ready for a major gifts program. Consider creating a solid annual fund program with engaging stewardship practices.
Get inspired by inception
When drilling down into your data, don’t simply look at donations. Try to see the whole picture of the donor. Some questions that might help:
- Do you have any information about events they’ve attended?
- Do they volunteer?
- How often are they reading your newsletter?
- Have they met with your leadership team?
- How many years in a row have they given?
Look for clues that will determine their level of engagement, not just the obvious dollar signs.
And just like Inception told us, we need to go deeper. This is where a wealth screening service like DonorSearch will be helpful. While it’s obvious that the individuals who gave you $1,000 or more are part of your cultivation strategy, there may be hidden gems within your existing donor database. Drilling down into even the smallest gift amounts and seeing what capacity those individuals have is an easy way to whittle down your workload and focus your reach.
What is wealth screening?
As with everything, data can point us in the right direction but not the final answer. You need to ensure that you’re being efficient with your time, so your organization should whittle your list to no more than 150 major donor prospects to each staff member assigned to your major donor program. Once you have that list, then it’s time to get to work.
2. Getting your donors ready
Once you’ve identified your prospects, the next step is to get them ready for the ask. The worst thing you can do is set up a meeting and blurt out that your organization is desperate for their money. There needs to be some work put into getting someone ready to commit to a major gift.
The first thing you should do when cultivating a major donor is to learn as much as you can about them. While I’m not saying you should be able to tell them what they had for breakfast last week, you should be able to know if they are gluten free when taking them out to breakfast. The reasons that people give are varied but ultimately it never hurts to engage a human’s innate pleasure of hearing about themselves.
Ask the prospect questions about their life, their passions, their reasons for being involved in your organization. Don’t make an ask in these initial meetings. Take the time to get to know who this person is and what matters to them.
Top 5 questions to ask your prospect:
- Why did you first give to our organization?
- Why are you interested in our organization?
- What results do you expect from our organization?
- What is your personal mission in life?
- Can you tell me about yourself?
We’re going to cover your big fundraising events a little later in the book, but we did want to talk about holding non-ask events. These are a fun way to cultivate prospects to gain information about their passions and capacity to give without feeling pressured to make the ask right then and there.
Structure the event as a way to inform attendees about your mission, but make it absolutely clear there will be no ask made at the event. This will simply be a way for someone who is interested in your organization to learn more about your work in a fun and engaging way. View this as a way to whittle down your prospect list to see who is truly engaged with your mission.
When reviewing your prospect lists, it might be a good idea to start with the women on your list. A recent study by the Lilly Family School of Philanthropy found that for every $100 a man gave, a woman in the same socio-economic status gave $258. In fact, 64% of all charitable gifts are given by women. The same study also found that middle and older aged women gave 2.5x less than their younger counterparts.
Further research has also found that women are more likely to give to multiple organizations. Data says they’ll likely want to be involved as decision makers, and may join a board of directors or volunteer for a committee.
There’s a term widely used in the tech world called FOMO: Fear Of Missing Out. It describes the feeling we have of others passing us by due to our not joining in on a project. When viewed from the lens of the major donor, we should create communications that ensure that donors feel that. They should know they’re part of something big, that they’re changing their communities — and the world — with their donations.
These communications should be geared toward major donors. Here are some options that might work for your organization:
- Meetings with the executive director or board president
- A special donors briefing on mission updates
- Advice sessions that look for the donor’s feedback
Not only does this involve and cultivate the donor or encourage them to keep giving, but it will also get them talking. They will tell their friends about the great meeting you had with them and how amazing your mission is. And then there’s a good chance that friend will want to know how they can also be involved. Make FOMO your friend and broaden your base.
3. Making the ask
This section was contributed by Ellen Bristol of Bristol Strategy Group. They’re a member of the Neon One partner network — and they provide fundraising consultant services for nonprofits. Check them out if you need help setting up your major gifts program!
Virtually every nonprofit executive, manager, board director, or fundraising professional I’ve ever met has expressed fear, anxiety and sweaty palms when discussing fundraising. The most anxiety-provoking element seems to be making the proverbial “ask.”
Which is really too bad, because if you get the beginning, the “ask” makes itself.
Step 1: Whom to call upon
Document your qualifying criteria, including donor motivations. Regrettably, most nonprofits flunk this test. Don’t go after anybody with a pulse, or assume you “already know” whom to pursue. This leads to chasing the “usual suspects,” the local big-shots everybody else is pursuing.
Before you waste your time, have conversations with donors who already love you. These people will be flattered you asked, and give you very valuable insights. Ask why they give to charity in the first place, why they support organizations like yours, and why yours in particular. Not only will you learn a lot, you’ll learn it in the donors’ language, which you can then use for your marketing messages.
Step 2: How much to ask for
For current donors, check giving history and go from there, asking the same or a larger amount. A good prospect-research service, especially one providing both wealth capacity and giving history, is invaluable here. If your donor gives you $1,000 a year, but $25,000 to another organization with a similar mission, you’re probably not asking for enough. For first-time donors, use prospect research or simply go for an amount you’re comfortable with.
Step 3: Don’t ask (yet)
Instead, it’s this: “would you be willing to consider making a gift to our organization?” The words “willing to consider” are the secret sauce here. You’re not making the ask, you’re just getting opening a dialogue.
The prospect will say “no,” “yes,” and/or “how much?” Once the how-much question is asked say something like “we were thinking a gift in the range of…” This is inviting, not obtrusive, and the prospect doesn’t feel cornered.
Think of this as a friendly way to set expectations in your negotiations. You’re giving the prospect the power of making a decision.
For current donors, modify slightly: “would you be willing to consider making [another, a larger, a special] gift again this year/for this campaign/to support this special program]?” Once again, your response is “we were thinking of a range from [what you’ve typically given in the past] to [a larger gift].”
Step 4: The follow up
Follow up with a very simple written proposal: “We said this, you said that, this was the amount and purpose (if any) of the gift.” Send it within one business day of your conversation. Now schedule a date to review this proposal with the donor. Don’t leave this step out.
When the date comes, ask “Did our proposal meet your expectations/cover the essence of our discussion? What do you think?”
Wait, two, three, four. Breathe. Eventually the prospect will say something. If it’s what you wanted to hear, dandy, thank the prospect and move on. If it’s not what you wanted to hear, discuss amount, negotiate scope or payment plan or anything else. If it’s an outright no, you get no more than 17 seconds (I’m counting) to feel rotten about it, but then you just move on to the next call.
There. You’ve made the ask.
4. Retaining through stewardship
Success! You’ve received the major donor commitment. Now what?
First, the obvious. No matter what, acknowledge that a commitment in some form has been made. If it’s an actual gift, be sure to receipt your donor in a timely fashion. You should be able to receipt your donors of any size within 48 hours, regardless of the medium of the gift. If you’re able to receipt them via email immediately, that’s great!
Major donors should receive a physical receipt as well, especially if this is a multi-year pledged gift or a planned gift. Making all the details available for them will show that you’ve done the bare minimum of stewardship and won’t offend the donor. The last thing you want is the donor to receive an appeal as their next communication after making a major gift to your organization.
Once you’ve receipted your major donors, move into a relationship model of engagement. The root meaning of stewardship comes from a theological explanation on the ethical planning of resources. Basically, that means treating things with the respect that they deserve. When you steward a donor, you are cultivating a long-term relationship based upon trust and transparency. The best practices we laid out earlier really come into play here.
At my last job for a private Catholic school, our development team set standards for what type of interaction a donor should receive depending on their level of giving. If someone gave a $50 gift, they received a letter signed by the Head of Schools that was sent out within 48 hours. But if someone gave a $5,000 gift, we scheduled a lunch for the Head of Schools to meet with the donor and talk about their vision for the school and how their gift can help. A list of levels and action items for staff is an easy starting point your donor stewardship program.
Ultimately your goal is to keep major donors interested in your mission for years to come. What made them become a champion in your mission? Lean into that when engaging them in all your communications, keeping detailed notes. Major gifts can lead to an official commitment to a planned giving program if done correctly.
Can you fire a donor?
1. Capacity calculator
A capacity calculator is a tool used to determine the number of gifts and prospects needed to reach your fundraising goal. Often used for annual funds or capital campaigns, they’re also a great tool for major gift fundraising. The top of the chart has a small number of large gifts, and the bottom has a larger number of small gifts. Here’s an example:
Sample capacity calculator for $3,000,000
|Gift Level||# of Gifts||# of Prospects||Amount|
To build yours, start from the top with the highest level gift that will be made — a realistic number depending on your donor base. Build your chart downwards from there, assuming you’ll need 3-5 donors for each gift that is actually made. Keep in mind the realities of your donor base, and don’t be afraid to change your goals if needed.
You may even consider using this as a tool for larger donors. Bring along the capacity calculator to show them your goals, where the campaign stands, and how they can be part of the solution.
2. Moves management playbook
This section was contributed by DonorTrends. They provide data-driven fundraising insights and actionable insights for nonprofits. Check them out for some metrics helps before diving into your major gifts strategy.
Like a coach and team, you and your donors share a goal. How do you move there together? This fundraiser’s playbook provides proven techniques that lead to an increase in revenue and donor retention.
Step 1: Define your why
Fundraisers know they need to upgrade donors. Yet few are specific in their goals/objectives. Before we put any plan into action we need to state ‘Why’ we are here. Tactics, techniques, and reporting can only happen after the goal is clearly stated.
Your ‘Why’ needs to be specific and measurable. For example:
- Increase mid-level joins by 15%
- Increase average gift 10%
- Generate $172,000 from major donors
Step 2: Know your numbers
Welcome to the analytic clinic! To prescribe a strategy for upgrading donors, you must take your fundraising vital signs. Understanding how your donors have behaved with your organization is the only way you can set realistic and measurable goals for future success.
Here are the most important metrics you should know before getting started:
- Average gift
- 5-year lifetime value
- Donor/dollar distribution
- Mid-level joins
- Major donor joins
Be sure to calculate where you stand today, as well as your ideal goal metrics!
Set your Mid-Level and Major Donor Dollar Ranges
Many organizations ask, ‘How should we define our mid-level and major donors?’ Here’s a quick formula to use to get you started:
- Mid-level dollar range = average gift x 5
- Major donor dollar range = average gift X 13-17
- Many organizations [57%] define a mid-level donor at $500 and a major donor $5,000
Step 3: Identify likely prospects
The best predictor of the future is the past. Your database is filled with a goldmine of information waiting for you to analyze. Every gift, the timing of that gift, and how it relates to the overall donor relationship are vital pieces to the ‘prediction puzzle.’
How a donor behaves is the most important predictor to their likelihood to retention and upgrade. Use this historic data to rank and prioritize your donors.
Avoid the Wealth Append Trap
Remember: Wealth does not equal philanthropy. Just because a donor has assets, does not mean she is going to give a large gift to you. What matters most is how engaged she donor is to your organization and mission.
Once you identify who is really ‘into you,’ then you can append profile information like age, gender, presence of children, real estate values, etc.
Using your data, identify the donors who fall into these categories:
Lower dollar donors likely to upgrade
Mid-level donors likely to upgrade
Major donors likely to upgrade
Step 4: Target top prospects/clusters
Now that you have identified the best donors to target, it’s time to develop an annual contact strategy to accomplish the goal in step 1.
An effective moves management strategy will target each donor cluster in a different way. Here’s an example of a contact strategy by donor cluster:
Lower dollar donors likely to upgrade
- During best campaigns, use a more aggressive ask string for these donors.
- Your ask string should range anywhere from 1.75 x HPC to 2.25 x HPC.
- If your budget allows, give them a thank you call for supporting the campaign.
Mid-level donors likely to upgrade
- Invitation campaign to join a giving society.
- Multi-channel campaign that includes a high-value mail package and follow-up thank you call.
- Prospects are assigned a liason to make them feel connected to mission.
Major donors likely to upgrade
- Elevate to major donor officer for qualification.
- Update demographic and capacity info to round out their profile.
- Assign top prospects to board members for more engagement.
- Build a strong statement for support.
- Start with top prospects and schedule a meeting.
Step 5: Track progress
“What gets measured gets moved.” To achieve your goal, frequently track progress and adjust strategy as needed to stay on course. The metrics that are tracked, and the frequency will ultimately depend on your goal.
Monthly Metric Checklist:
- Donor retention
- Total gross revenue
- % of revenue from lower dollar donors
- % of revenue from mid-level donors
- % of revenue from major donors
- Upgrades from lower dollar
- Upgrades from mid-level
- Upgrades from major
- Number of contacts to major donor prospects in active portfolios
3. #GivingTuesday and major gifts
#GivingTuesday is a day of giving shortly after the Thanksgiving holiday. It was developed by the 92 Street Y as a donation alternative to the for-profit focused Black Friday.
The popularity of giving days is increasing and the biggest by far is #GivingTuesday. In 2016, 1,560,000 gifts were made that totaled $168,000,000 in online gifts alone. And that statistic is very important to what #GivingTuesday represents, which has historically been a day focused around online gifts. While many organizations do indeed structure a direct mail appeal around #GivingTuesday to great success, the big push is online donations.
So how does this fit within your major donor strategy? There’s a few things that you can do to when it comes to major donors and #GivingTuesday.
Get them involved
Major donors love to know that their gift is going to be maximized and used to the fullest extent possible. One way to get major donors involved with #GivingTuesday is choosing a donor or group committed to matching gifts.
Announcing that every dollar will be matched on #GivingTuesday gives an added level of excitement for everyone involved. Building marketing materials around the matching gift ensures a seamless connection between your major donor branding and your #GivingTuesday strategy.
Make it easy
One of the more exciting things about #GivingTuesday is its ability to bring in new donors to your organization. Having a well-developed marketing strategy for your #GivingTuesday outreach will ensure that you’re reaching a new audience. While you absolutely want to tailor your message, there are ways you can bake in opportunities for major donors within your #GivingTuesday planning.
Ensure that your giving forms allow for larger gifts or to reach out to your organization to send a check. Messaging that references the availability of a major gift opportunity is the easiest thing that you can do. While the vast majority of your #GivingTuesday donations will be small, you don’t want to exclude the possibility of a major gift.
Finding the diamond in the rough
One of the most overlooked #GivingTuesday items is follow up. All the principles we’ve discussed relating to sourcing and engaging major donors should be applied to all #GivingTuesday donations.
Segment your lists into new donors and previous donors. See if any of these donors are on your prospecting lists. If they made a gift below your capacity expectations, reach out and talk with them about why they gave. Start to cultivate them into a major donor. You already know they’re engaged, but see what limited their gift.
Then turn your attention to new donors and run them through wealth screening to see their capacity for giving. Again, all the same principles we’ve covered apply to #GivingTuesday donors. Just ensure that you reference their participation in this appeal.
#GivingTuesday marketing tips
4. Annual events and major donors
A tricky aspect of major gifts is moving the prospect toward your goal without them feeling nickled and dimed. There are conflicting thoughts on donor fatigue, but fundraising events are a great way to vary donor engagements. You should work with your event planning team for a major donor strategy during galas or larger fundraisers.
Work with your event planners
Your major gifts and event planning teams should discuss major donor strategy at the event. If you’ve cultivated specific prospects for a donation, then this list should be shared with the event team so they are aware. Furthermore, the major gift staff assigned to these prospects should ensure they connect with the donor in a meaningful way.
Strategic table assignments and special packages for these VIP guests will show them how much you care about their needs. Your team will also have access to a major donor in a relaxed environment. While the goal should be to ensure the guest has a good time and not concentrate on a major ask, be open to the possibility. And snap a picture of the donor for good measure, you’re going to need this later.
Fund a need
One of the most effective ways to involve a major donor at your event is to secure their participation in a Fund A Need appeal at the event itself. Fund A Need is a specific appeal during your event at the height of engagement. Your organization should tell an inspiring testimonial story that showcases a compelling need. Typically an organization starts high and works down a series of giving levels to allow participation by all guests.
The major gift team should work with the event team to identify the best prospect for the Fund A Need kick-off ask. This person should be guaranteed and ready to donate at the highest level possible. This excites the crowd and also leverages the FOMO we discussed earlier. People want to feel that their gift is part of an effective strategy, and this will help fuse your major gift strategy with the goals of your event.
There are a few items that your organization can do once the event is done. Ask for the entire guest list from your event team and run it through a wealth screening service. Then, cross reference with your existing prospects. Perhaps a new attendee has a major giving capacity and should be cultivated.
For your existing prospects that happened to attend the event, your organization should reach out in a personal way to thank them for their attendance. Remember that picture you took of the donor having fun at the event? Giving them a copy of it with your follow up note is an easy and low-cost gesture to show that you were paying attention. Creative ways to follow up with prospects are endless when it comes to events.