Major Donor Strategy: How to Build a Major Gift Fundraising Program

Major Donor Strategy: How to Build a Major Gift Fundraising Program

As our friend Robin L. Cabral eloquently puts it…

At one point, 80% of the average nonprofit’s revenue came from 20% of its donors. But today? Those numbers look like 90% of a nonprofit’s revenue comes from 10% of its donors. 

So, no matter what size your nonprofit is, cultivating relationships with donors is crucial to hitting the financial goals organizations need to make more impact. 

And we’re going to explain how to build a major gift fundraising program: 




What Are Major Gifts? 

First, let’s discuss what major gifts are. A major gift is a significant amount of funds to help your nonprofit create more impact in its cause. 

Every nonprofit’s idea of a major gift is different, though. Where one nonprofit’s major gift is $10,000, another organization’s major gift may be $1,500. 

There is no “threshold” that constitutes a substantial donation. Simply peruse through your organization’s gift history. The largest amounts your organization has received can be considered a major gift! 


Why Are They Important for Nonprofit Organizations? 

Because we’re now looking at statistics such as “90% of your nonprofit’s revenue comes from 10% of your donors,” we sometimes need to ask for more from those who have the capacity and the desire to give. 

Creating a major donor gift program creates great potential for cultivating relationships with those who are ready to support your nonprofit.


Where Can Your Nonprofit Find Major Donors? 

It’s one of the most asked questions when it comes to a major donor fundraising strategy – where can a nonprofit even find individuals who are ready to support in such a way? 

One of the best ways to find major donors is to look within your nonprofit’s inner circle. Many people may be interested in becoming major donors that are already in connection with your organization. 

Peruse your nonprofit CRM software to see the giving history of your contacts. Most platforms will allow you to segment your contact list and run a report on those who’ve given the most in the past. 

You can also lean on your board of directors’ network of people. Often, those who sit on the board have connections who make great major donor prospects. 

And if you need other ways to find major gift prospects, then check out our free training: 

Learn How to Find Major Donors in Our Free Nonprofit Training!  


How to Create a Major Donor Fundraising Strategy? 

Before you get much further in the process of reaching out to prospective donors, it’s a great idea to develop a major donor fundraising strategy. 

Because working with major donors is a little different than micro- or standard donors, you’ll want to be prepared for the scenario. A strategy will allow you to go into the process with a mapped-out plan. 


1. Think About What a Major Gift Is for Your Nonprofit

Before doing anything else, think about (and discuss with your team!) what constitutes a major gift for your nonprofit. 

Since every organization is different, your answer may be different than a friend who works with another nonprofit. 

When you know what a major gift looks like for your organization, you’ll be able to narrow down your search for the right prospects. 


2. Devote a Dedicated Team to Your Major Donors Program

If your board of directors and team members decide that a major donor program is a priority for your nonprofit, then it may be worth it to devote a dedicated team to it. 

Since a major donor program requires a level of cultivation and stewardship that’s unlike other donor programs, having a team that can “specialize” in it can certainly help in the success rate. 

This team can be in charge of: 

  • Finalizing the major donor fundraising strategy
  • Determining criteria for prospects
  • Figuring out where to find prospective major donors
  • Cultivating relationships with potential donors
  • Making proposals and asks to the donors
  • Keeping track of the ROI and results of the program 

A dedicated team can also be comprised of hired staff members and volunteers. This is especially the case if there are any volunteers who have connections within the community. 


3. Perform Wealth Screenings on Prospects

When your team does have a list of prospects, you may want to use a donor relationship management tool to perform wealth screenings and other charity indicators. 

Doing so will give you more insight into who has the capacity to become a major donor and who may have the desire to become one. 

Wealth screenings can show you an overview of stock ownership, real estate ownership, and business associations for your prospects. 

Charity indicators can show you more about what organizations they’ve given to in the past and how much they’ve donated. 

This kind of research can help you determine whether or not it’s worth it to reach out to certain individuals. 


4. Determine a Plan for the Ask

Eventually, your team will need to make the ask in some form or another. For any type of donor, it’s always great to have a plan on how you’ll ask for a donation. 

This is especially true for major donors. It may be best to meet in person or have a conversation over the phone because of the nature of the program. Either way, preparing with a plan is always a great idea. 


5. Follow Up with a Thank You

And of course, it’s necessary to always follow up with gratitude. Thank them for their time immediately after, and for their support, if they choose to give it. 

You may also want to devote a plan to thank them in multiple ways. For example, if you meet in person, of course say thank you before leaving. But you may also want to send a handwritten thank you card. And a few days after that, follow that up with a thank you phone call. 


3 Major Gift Fundraising Best Practices to Use In Your Strategy: 

Once you’ve determined your strategy, it’s time to implement it. We suggest using these 3 major gift fundraising best practices to help you succeed! 


1. Cultivate Major Donors Properly

The nature of asking a prospect for a major gift is much different than standard fundraising. You’ll need to cultivate your donors properly. 

That might include a longer nurture period. It might include meeting with them at community events or galas, where they would typically attend. 

It could also entail crafting nurturing campaigns specifically for major donors, such as sending direct mailings to them more often than to standard donors. 

And of course, it could mean spending more time emailing or calling back and forth to check in with one another. 


2. Personalize Your Communications with Prospective Major Donors

No matter how you choose to communicate with them, always personalize the donation experience for your prospective major donors. 

That may include having a segmented list in your nonprofit CRM tool or even in your email marketing software

Always try to be as personable as possible so they know you’re speaking directly to them and no one else. 


3. Be Transparent in The Return on Investment

Many major donors want to know that their “investment” is going to do something better for the world. After all, that’s the point of their donation! 

So, as much as you can, be specific about where their money will go. Is there a specific project your organization is working on? What can you quantify? 

When you can get crystal clear on who your nonprofit helps and how it helps, you’ll find that major donors are more inclined to give. 

Developing a major donor portfolio or program can take time and effort. But doing so can be the difference between hitting your annual fundraising goals or just missing the mark! 

If you’re interested in learning how to build your major donor portfolio, then check out our free training! 

Find Out How to Build Your Major Donor Portfolio!

Topics: Fundraising, Cultivating donors, Donor Relationships and Acquisition for Nonprofits