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Major Gifts Fundraising: A Complete Guide for Nonprofits

By: Cassandra Steele, online fundraising and digital marketing communications professional.

Having a major gifts program is critical for any nonprofits, since a large portion of a nonprofit’s annual revenue usually comes from just a handful of major donors. If you don’t already have a major donor program, or you’re looking to grow your major gift fundraising, this guide is for you.

major-gifts-fundraising

In this Guide, you’ll find tools and strategies for building and growing your major gifts program including:  

  1. Building Your Case for Support
  2. Finding the Right Prospects
  3. Building Your Proposal & Making the Ask
  4. Getting a Gift Agreement
  5. Stewarding & Reporting Back to Donors 
  6. Renewing the Gift

1. Building Your Case for Support

The first step in building your major gifts program is to develop your case for support. Your nonprofit’s case for support is the reason a donor should support your charity and should include information about your nonprofit, your mission or the problem you’re trying to solve and why, and information about your impact.

A case for support can be as simple as a pdf document with some photos or something that is more highly designed and looks like a short e-book. You can even have an online case for support.

Sample Case for Support

Check out Habitat for Humanity’s online case for support as an example of a digital case for support.
case-for-support-major-gifts

Here are some ideas for what to include in your case for support:

  • A short history of your nonprofit
  • Statistics related to your mission
  • Stories, quotes, and photos from your beneficiaries
  • A letter from your CEO
  • Financial information for nonprofit
  • Quotes or stories from other donors explaining why they give to your nonprofit

Your case for support will help you frame your major gift askes because it will be a resource for fundraisers to draw on for mission and impact information. It can also give you something physical that you can leave with any major gift prospects to read over.

2. Finding the Right Prospects

When you think of a major gift prospect, you’re probably thinking about finding new wealthy individuals who are philanthropically inclined, but your nonprofit’s donor database might be a better place to start! 

Build your pipeline from within

One way to identify major gift prospects is to look at your current donors and see if you have any donors with the capacity to give at the major gifts level.

Someone who had already given $20 or $50 to your organization, and those who have given over a long period of time, are more likely to become major donorsHere are some donor characteristics to keep an eye on when looking for major donor prospects:

  • Look at your annual and mid-level giving programs, major donors often start out by giving smaller gifts to test the waters before a larger charitable commitment
  • Keep an eye on very loyal and consistent annual donors and assess their capacity to give

If you’re a major gifts officer, AI prospecting tools like Wisely can help you identify new prospects from within your database. Wisely mines your database for the best major gift prospects to add to your pipeline. It also tells you how likely they are to give, when, and how much. 

prospecting-major-gift-fundraising-capital-campaign

AI prospecting tools are starting to play a key role in major gifts fundraising, performing analysis and finding new prospects, while human fundraisers focus on the personal aspects of major gift fundraising.

Attracting new donors

Your major gifts program should also focus on attracting new donors. Build a profile of your ideal major gifts prospect, someone who is going to be interested in your mission and whose philanthropic goals align with your nonprofit’s goals.

Once you’ve got your list, conduct prospect research, making use of tools like databases, news articles, information found online, and more to find ideal major gift prospects for your nonprofit and build a profile.

 

In order to determine how many donors you need at each giving level, you can use a gift chart. Sumac’s Gift Range Calculator lets you create this gift chart automatically.

Fundraising Gift Range Calculator
 

3. Building a Proposal & Making the Ask

Once you have a few prospects in the pipeline, it’s time for the major gifts officer to make connections and start crafting a unique giving proposals for each potential major gift donor.

Use the information you know about a major gift prospect either from prospect research or from your nonprofit CRM to craft a proposal you know will appeal to their interests. The proposal is different from your case for support because it is specific to this donor and their philanthropic goals.

Tips for proposal writing:

  • Personalize it to your major gift prospect. Put their name on it! Make sure they know it was created just for them
  • Align the ask to their philanthropic goals by highlighting specific impact points and why you think this is a good fit for a major gift from this donor
  • Put a dollar amount asking for a 5 figure or more gift can be intimidating, but including a specific ask amount will help prime your major gift prospect for their gift, and it will be easier to tell them what their gift can do! It’s hard to show the impact if you don’t know how much money you’re going to have.
  • Focus on the impact of the gift over the size and over the specifics. You might be super interested about the methodology of a research project, or the logistics of program delivery, but your donor is probably less interested in those aspects and more interested in what the outcomes are. The how is certainly important, but it’s not as important as the why.
  • Preview of stewardship opportunities toshow your donors how they will be recognized for this major gift. Will they have their name included in the annual report or on a donor wall? Will you provide updates on the progress of the initiative they are funding or what the impact of their major gift has been on your nonprofit?

4. Getting a Gift Agreement

After closing a major gift the last thing you want is to ruin the warm and fuzzies by talking about legal and other administrative requirements. However, a gift agreement is the best way to protect your nonprofit and to ensure your donor gets what they want, and expect, out of their giving experience, so you’ll want to include this in your major gifts fundraising strategy. 

major-gift-agreement

A gift agreement will help your nonprofit:

  • Set timelines for both your major gift donor and your nonprofit. Including a timeline for the installments in the gift agreement, if the gift is in installments, will keep the donor on track with their pledge payments. And including timelines for your nonprofit to send out reports and execute milestones related to the gift will keep you on track and help your donor envision the outcome of their major gift over time. 
  • Manage expectations, f the work that goes into carrying out the donor’s wishes is more than your nonprofit can handle it’s going to lead to disappointment for you and for your major gift donor.
  • Protect your nonprofit down the line, especially if this is a major gift that will be fulfilled over many years. You’ll have the agreement on file so it’s always clear what the terms were even if you have staff turnover. 
  • Create a positive and professional experience for your donor. An organized gift agreement will put your major gift donor at ease because they’ll know that your nonprofit has a record of their expectations and it will act like a roadmap to carry out the important work they want their major gift to carry out.

5. Steward & Report Back to Donors

Once the proposals are accepted, the gift agreement is finalized, and your major donor starts to fulfil their pledge or has made their donation, it’s time to steward this major donor and report back on the impact of their donation.

Reporting back to major donors is not just critical if you want them to give again, but reporting and recognition requirements might be in the major gift agreement. Regardless, you should always include stewardship in your major gift fundraising strategy. 

If your gift agreement didn’t specify stewardship, or only included financial reports on the use of the gift, here are some stewardship ideas for major gift donors:

  • Include their name in your annual report
  • Send a thank you letter or thank you video through email from a beneficiary of your organization
  • Invite exclusive major gift donor to webinars with your nonprofit’s CEO
  • Schedule a thank-you phone call from your CEO, a member of senior leadership or a board member

6. Renewing the Gift

Wait, you’re not done. You’ve got to get ready to ask again! 

After someone has given a major gift to your organization, you might think they won’t want to make another large gift, or that they need some time until you ask them again.

While your major gifts officer shouldn’t run out the minute the last pledge payment is made to ask a donor for another major gift, you should start preparing to make another ask. If you stewarded your major gift donor and you showed them the impact of their gift, they will be waiting for the right opportunity to give to your nonprofit again.

You should also consider other ways that this donor can give to your nonprofit outside of major gifts, like leaving a gift in their will to your nonprofit or, if they are in a position to be a corporate sponsorship through their business or workplace.

Keep following best practices for your major gift fundraising program, using new tools like AI to grow your major gifts pipeline, solicit more donors with the right ask and the right time, and you’ll be able to raise the funds you need for your important work!


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