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Major Gifts: A Fundraising Powerhouse

Procuring major gifts isn't easy, but here are six tips to make it a little more manageable.

Major Gifts: A Fundraising Powerhouse

Yeah, you think, my nonprofit would love to be bequeathed a million dollars. Of course major gifts are great, but it’s not like you can just order them up. How am I supposed to take advantage of this “fundraising powerhouse?”

If you’ve been hanging around CharityEngine long enough, you know we love to take big monster topics and break them down so they make sense for any-sized nonprofit. We’ve got enterprise clients who can get a million dollars in (almost) the snap of a finger and growing nonprofits who want to begin cultivating major gifts, but the advice we give them is the same. And now we’re going to share it with you.

It's All About Relationships

Not to be sappy, but this is the truest bit of guidance when it comes to fundraising and nonprofit success: always focus on your least-happy donor! This is because your donors are your lifeblood, and engaging them, understanding them, responding to them, and inspiring loyalty from them are the cornerstones of nonprofit donation success.

So when you’re thinking about major gifts, it makes sense to look at relationships. See where you have strong ones and where you could spend a little time strengthening them. And then get to know them!

Use your CRM to create profiles of donors, so you know when it’s their birthday or why they might donate. What is it about your mission that inspires them? What are their interests and values?

If you’re growing, do this for every donor. If you’re larger, use your CRM to segment your donors by demographics or giving history, then start with the largest donors in each group and make it your mission to know them.

Step away from email automation (which we normally love) and pick up the phone. Call donors. Develop a personal relationship with as many as you can. When they feel seen and understood, loyalty increases.

(As an aside, if you haven’t watched the webinar featuring Angel Aloma of Food for the Poor and his brilliant son, Kristian, take a moment to read this article recapping it. Whether you’re interested in Angel’s experience running one of the largest nonprofits in the country or Kristian’s PhD-level scientific knowledge about the psychology of giving, it’s worth your time to hear what they had to say.)

Divvy Up Your Donors

Use your CRM to segment your donors according to their giving history. We love the idea of using a calculator to identify the recency, frequency, and monetary value of donors – here’s a free version you can use. Find the donors who have demonstrated a consistent commitment to your nonprofit.RFM Calculator-1

Then segment them according to where they work and what their title is, remembering that a corporation can be the source of a major gift. Use any insights your technology can give you to help develop this list.

And then finally, take a look outside your donor pool, to community leaders or influential individuals. These are all potential major gift donors.

What you’re looking to develop is a list of candidates who have the capacity and interest to make a major gift. Once you have a solid list, you’re ready to move to the next step.

Develop Your Why

If you were sitting on piles of money you just had to hand to deserving nonprofits, what is it that would convince you to give it to your nonprofit? You must have a compelling explanation for your ask.

Ensure your message explains your mission, impact, and funding needs. Personalize it for each donor you approach and highlight the way their gift will make a difference.

It’s helpful to consider how making a major gift will benefit the donor and communicate that benefit to them. Unless it’s an individual who wants to remain anonymous, the recognition can be appealing…so think of how you will publicize major donors. If it’s an anonymous donor, can you offer them a premium table at an event?

The Art of the Ask

Let’s be real…it’s tough to ask for money, even for a good cause. And it’s a lot tougher to ask for a lot of money. But once you’re armed with a strong relationship and a compelling story, you’ve got what you need to set up appointments and talk to people.

A few tips:

  • You can start with an email or letter, thanking them for their past support and detailing how their help has impacted your mission. Follow this up with a phone call and introduce the idea of your major gifts campaign.
  • Think of one-on-one meetings or small groups, like a luncheon or event, but make the ask in person.
  • Let them know your intention. Be completely transparent; if they don’t want to meet with you, they likely aren’t going to donate right now, so you can save time.
  • Keep it simple and straightforward.
  • Ask for a specific amount and mention the mission. It could look like this: “Would you consider a donation of $5,000 to feed hungry families in our community?”
  • If you get a no, you can ask for a smaller gift or their support in another way (an in-kind donation, perhaps) and/or if they’d be open to a major gift in the future.

Approach your donors with confidence, kindness, and appreciation for their support. The more you do it, the easier it gets.

What About Stock?

Often a source of major gifts, securities can be a significant part of your strategy. When an individual donates stock, they avoid the capital gains taxes they would have to pay if they sold it, and they will get a tax deduction for donating to a nonprofit.

You might think of stock donations as gifts made posthumously or pledged by an elderly donor. Not so! Many tax-savvy donors have been turned on to the benefits of charitable gifts of stock, and it’s worth taking a look at your pool of donors – easy with a good nonprofit CRM – and investigating whether or not this is a viable option and one you should promote.

There are a few different ways to think about this:

  • You can add a button to your donation page (we like DonateStock) to encourage supporters to consider stock. Let the tech do the hard work!
  • You can ask an estate attorney or financial planner to be on or talk to your board about how to encourage supporters to name your nonprofit in their will or as a beneficiary of their retirement funds.
  • Ask your board, politely but directly, if they would consider a major gift or approach their social circles with the ask.
  • Donor Advised Funds (DAF) are a type of account donors can create that exists for the sole purpose of supporting nonprofits they care about. This type of gift can offer significant tax savings to donors. Educate your donors about this option!

Stewardship Keeps the Love Alive

“Thank you” might be the two most important words any nonprofit executive can say. It can be “Thank you for your consideration” if you get a no, or it can be buried in effusive appreciation for a yes.

Creating a stewardship campaign is one way to deepen relationships with donors and keep them connected to your nonprofit. What are some considerations for ongoing stewardship and appreciation?

  • Consistent communication about how their gift is impacting your mission. Include pictures and stories.
  • A personal phone call every few months, just to check in, does wonders.
  • If it’s feasible, consider an appreciation event for major donors.
  • Offer ways the donors can be involved beyond a monetary donation. Would they like to volunteer, tour your facility, or meet your staff?

Think of your major donors as family and treat them as such.

And then guess what? We’re back where we started, at building relationships. Investing your time in this way will pay dividends every time you launch a campaign.