A regular question I get from smaller charities as a consultant is “We’re not a large organization. Can we really get involved in major gift fundraising?”. I’ve been fortunate to have worked with small and large charities, and the answer is always a resounding yes.
Major gift fundraising really is for everyone, it’s often just a question of scale and expectation. Major gift fundraising is typically more about the style of approach than it is the amount of money that you are asking for. The questions are, at what point does it make sense to put in the time and effort required to manage a major donor relationship, and more importantly, given that major gift fundraising has one of the highest returns on investment compared with other fundraising streams, can you not afford to do it?
There is no doubt that the opportunities with the major gift approach for charities can be plentiful. While you, as an organization, might not know many (or any) millionaires, by paying a little attention to your donors and your contacts, you might, discover that you have a good network of people who can give, for example, $5,000 to $10,000, or more. In a smaller organization a handful of donors giving $10,000 a year could transform a small charity, but would have little impact on the finances of a multi-million pound international NGO. This presents a real opportunity for donors at that level to feel like they are able to make a considerable difference.
So how do you get started in major gift fundraising?
Determine your major gift level
Major gift fundraising is highly personalised, and requires you to build direct relationships with donors so that you can understand their passions, their motivations and interests. Once you know them, and they know your organization, you can work together to identify opportunities where their funding can support you to deliver a particular outcome that they care deeply about.
This takes time and in small charities, something you might not have a lot of. While of course we’d love to get up close and personal with every donor, this just may not be possible. So you need to determine the level you would consider to be a major gift, a gift that can make a considerable difference to you, so that you can plan to invest the necessary time in managing these relationships.
Know your donors and their giving capacity
In relation to the above, you need to know the giving capacity of your donors, so that you are aiming your approaches at the right level. Charities may decide that their major gift level should be $20,000, but if their top donor is only capable of giving $5,000 as a maximum gift, then they are not going to succeed. So you need to make a decision: decide that $5,000 will be your major gift level and bring them into your major gift cultivation program, or reach out beyond your current donors to find your $20,000 donors (but bear in mind that it can take a long time to identify, connect with and cultivate new donors).
When trying to identify who your major donors might be, look into your database to see if there are any donors who may have given at a relatively high level within say the last few years, either in single gifts or cumulatively over say a year? With a more focused program, could they give again, or give at a higher level? Are there donors who you know have contributed to other charities at a major gift level, but haven’t yet been sufficiently connected with your programs so that they feel comfortable, or willing, to do the same for you? By taking a closer look at your database, and perhaps even doing some prospect research, you can determine the giving potential of your donors, and then you can plan your major gift program accordingly.Need help with developing your stewardship strategy? Click here for my FREE stewardship checklist!
Have a clear Case for Support that matches your donors’ giving capacity
I’ve talked at length about the importance of your Case for Support in other posts, but in major gift fundraising in particular, a well-articulated ask for funds is crucial. By demonstrating to your donor the difference that they can make with their support, making them the hero in your fundraising story, you can make a very compelling ask. However, you need to ensure that your Case for Support is set at a level that is going to inspire their interest. Do the levels within your Case for Support provide an opportunity for the donor to feel like they can make a transformational gift, while still being achievable for them? If you set your levels too low, not only will you not reach your financial goals, but your donors might not feel like that their funding is truly influential. If the amounts are too high, then they could be out of their reach.
Get your Board on board
In small shops in particular, board engagement can be crucial. Not only do they help you to increase your capacity to reach out to more people, they can often bring networks, funding and resources to the table. Furthermore, major donors often expect to be able to engage with your Board and if they cannot, they may question why. As people at the head of your organization, your Board members can, and should, be excellent advocates of your organization, helping to spread the message about the importance of your work.
Identify your opportunities for donor cultivation
Once you know who your major gift prospects are, your Case for Support and your advocates, start looking at ways to engage and connect with your donors. The best way to connect will always be face to face, where you can really build a relationship, get to know their motivations and why they are involved with your organization in the first place. Use this opportunity to understand what lights their fire, what makes them mad and what makes them feel good? How can their involvement in your organization as a financial donor help them to meet their personal (and sometimes business) goals?
And if a face to face meeting feels like too much too quickly with some of your donors, are there other ways to get introduced to them more gently, such inviting them to an event, or warming up with a call where you just thank them for their previous support (and then spending the rest of the call listening to what they have to say)?
Steward like crazy!
Once you have got your prospect’s attention, and interest, one thing you just cannot afford to do badly is your donor stewardship. By treating your donors really well, listening to their concerns, keeping them engaged and involved and giving them opportunities to see your work in action (where appropriate) you will give your donors the best opportunity to get to the point where they are ready to make a significant (for them and for you) contribution towards your work. Once they do, then make sure that they are thanked, and thanked, and thanked, for their support. Simple things like a hand written thank-you note from the Chair, and regular meetings to discuss progress can make a huge difference.
And remember, the gift isn’t the end of the process, but the start of what could be a long and profitable relationship – for both you and the donor. We at Purposeful Fundraising are experts in all areas regarding fundraising for organizations – large and small. Contact us today to see how we can help you out!