3 Steps to Launch a Major Gifts Initiative



With a lot of trepidation, your organization has decided to launch a major gifts initiative as part of your annual campaign. The reality is every nonprofit organization can conduct a major gifts campaign. The campaign will look different from organization to organization based upon prior fundraising experience. Begin by putting aside any fears and follow the following steps. The absolute worst results will be a cleaner database and some great conversations with donors. How can you go wrong?


Preparation Prior to starting the initiative, you organization will need to have a clean database. Review your data and take the time to send the data to a certified company for an NCOA (national change of address). Because the organization will need to assess current donors and their giving history, having a clean database will make the process easier and enhance communications with donors as the initiative moves forward.


Set a Goal Your organization needs to have a goal for the initiative. The goal could be increased number of donors or an increase in dollars raised. The important point is have a measurable goal for the organization’s major gifts initiative. An example would be to increase the number of individual donors giving $5,000 or more by 200%. You have chosen to limit the solicitations to individuals and exclude corporations, foundations, or other entities. Separate strategies and goals have been created for other categories of constituents.


Step 1 The first step is to secure donors who already qualify as major donors. It is easier to launch an initiative with existing donors than starting from zero. You will use your database to identify those individuals who have a recent gift of $5,000 or more. You, a board member, or perhaps a member of your fundraising committee will meet with each previous major donor, secure a current gift, and ask them if there are other people with whom your organization should be speaking. Ask them if they will help by making an introduction.


This first step is predicated upon the organization having continually stewarded these previous donors and kept them engaged in the mission of the organization. If this has not occurred, the initial meeting will be an opportunity to discuss the current work of the organization and find out what the donor’s interests are. Invite them for a tour or lunch with the executive director. An ask may need to be temporarily delayed. Asking open-ended questions will help the person who is meeting with the donor judge if an ask is appropriate at this time.


Step 2 The second step is to analyze the organization’s data. Determine the criteria you wish to use, such as donors who have given $1,000 to $4,999 annually for the past three years. Query this list in your database. Is the number of donors in this list three times the number of donors you will need to reach your goal? The rule of thumb is you will need at least three prospects for every gift you need to secure. Keep in mind the three is a minimum.


The math will look like this: if you currently have 5 major donors, to reach your goal of an increase of 200%, you will need 10 new major donors. On the list of donors between $1,000 and $4,999, you will need to have 30 prospects to solicit. If you are close to having 30 prospects, you have a strong possibility of meeting your goal. However, having more than 30 would be ideal. Part of fundraising is a numbers game. You must have enough donor prospects to solicit to reach your goal.


There are no guarantees. But imagine, you and your board have 30 face-to-face conversations with donors with a goal of asking each for $5,000 or more. The worse thing that happens is that you have thirty quality conversations with donors and raise money. Keep in mind that the 30 prospects are already donors to your organization. These are not cold calls. Those 30, plus the 5 major donors you have already solicited takes your total to 35 face-to-face solicitations completed and an increase in dollars raised.


Step 3 The third step is to continue to build the pool of prospective major donors. With consistent effort your board members and current and newly acquired major donors will be adding more names to the prospect pool. Always encourage current donors to provide the organization with additional names. One way to expedite this is to ask current major gift donors to host a VIP event at their home. This is as simple as coffee and dessert. This event will give the donors’ friends an opportunity to learn about your organization and meet other donors who support your mission.


Looking at your list of major donor prospects, what do you know about them? Do any of your key volunteers know them? Who could best solicit them? Some of this information will be stored in your donor management software. As you are developing this process, continue to add new, relevant information to your database. You will frequently add both new constituents and new information about your constituents. This ongoing process will make your donor management database fertile ground for future major gifts fundraising.


Just Start These three steps can be used by any nonprofit, no matter its size. A major gift will differ from organization to organization. $5,000 is most often a target number. However, for a small organization that number might be $500 and for a larger organization, $50,000. Analyze your database and determine what dollar amount makes sense for your organization. Review how many donors fall into dollar giving ranges over the past three years. That information will help you determine the best goal for the organization.


Having analyzed your data, the organization will be more comfortable moving forward with a major gifts initiative because it will be based upon a solid starting point.





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