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Major Gift Fundraising: Now’s the Time to Make it Part of Your Development Strategy!

By Maureen Simmons posted 12-07-2021 13:25


You’ve launched your first annual giving fundraising appeal and it was a success. Now what?


Every nonprofit organization wishes for the large gifts that will fund mission-critical programs. So why don’t all organizations move forward with a major gifts program?


The answer is simple. Developing a major gifts effort takes focus and time.


Many organizations aren’t sure who to approach or are nervous about making the ask. However, with the largest source of charitable giving from individuals (Giving USA), major gift fundraising is an essential part of any nonprofit development plan.


Here’s a simple step-by-step approach to creating and implementing a successful major gifts program for your organization.


Step One: Create and Maintain a List of Your Major Gift Prospects

Creating your prospect list is fundamental to launching your major gifts program. Study your prospects using LAI (linkage or connection, ability or capacity, and interest or how your donor prospects’ values align with your organization).


The number of prospects you identify for your initial list will have a strong connection to your organization and the capacity for making a major gift. Here are steps to get started:

  • Review a list of your current donors
  • Meet with your CEO or executive director, board of directors or key volunteers to help you identify prospects with LAI
  • Take time to determine your prospects’ giving potential; several companies provide paid services for wealth data but also provide free donor research services; check out the free site to find donor giving history
  • Track your major donor prospect interactions in your donor database
  • Prioritize and determine next steps for each donor
  • Remember the average major gift takes between 12 - 18 months of cultivation before the first gift is made


Step Two: Personalize Your Approach

Don’t skip one of the most critical steps in major donor fundraising—taking time to get to know your donor prospects.


It’s critical to create a friendship between the donor and your organization through regular contact based on your donor’s communication and contact preference. Be disciplined and thorough about tracking your communications and contacts in your donor database.


Step Three: Be Consistent, Respectful, Listen, Track!

  • Create trust with your donor by doing what you say you’ll do
  • Honor your donors’ communication preference; some donors prefer communicating by emails, others may want to meet by Zoom , phone, or in-person
  • Listen deeply to your donor, take note when the donor prospect discloses information that reflects their personal values and beliefs
  • Track and measure each step you take so you’ll be prepared for your next contact


Step Four: Stick to Your Strategy

Never rush to the ask! You can only ask when the donor is ready.


Spend deliberate time cultivating a warm relationship with your donor and the ask will take care of itself. Over time, your relationship will uncover how your opportunity matches your donor’s vision. 


Present your nonprofit’s programs and projects in a way that is compelling,  impactful, and true to the donors’ vision. Specifically:

  • Express your case with enthusiasm
  • Make your ask into a conversation and let your donor do most of the talking
  • Create a sense of urgency with your ask and don’t be afraid to ask for a stretch gift if you feel your donor is ready


Major gift fundraising takes time, focus and deliberate and carefully-timed actions. Mostly major gift fundraising is about building relationships with prospective donors so they know you are as committed to them as they are to you. Treat them as trusted partners in carrying out your mission.


The key is regular and consistent communication, keeping your word, keeping them apprised of new initiatives and powerful stories of the community you serve. It is never too early to begin!