If your nonprofit is seeking a significant amount of funding to supercharge your mission, you’ll need to develop a major gift fundraising strategy. Major gift fundraising is a strategic effort to generate a substantial amount of revenue by tapping your donors who can give the largest gifts.
Major gift fundraising should naturally integrate into your overall fundraising strategy. For example, you might solicit major gifts as part of your year-end fundraiser. Most notably, major gifts are needed to establish foundational support for capital campaigns during the quiet phase. In fact, major donors will typically generate approximately 60% of a capital campaign fundraising goal!
If you’re new to major gift fundraising or looking to strengthen your existing fundraising strategy, you’ll need to familiarize yourself with best practices to solicit donations and bolster major donor relationships. Use these strategies to fuel major giving at your organization:
- Set concrete goals and develop a gift range chart
- Hire a fundraising consultant
- Craft a case for support
- Develop personalized major gift solicitations
Major gift fundraising doesn’t have to be difficult! With the right strategies, resources and support from your team, you can successfully steward major donors and count on their support in the future. Let’s begin.
Before you begin planning your major gift campaign, you need to outline what you want to achieve with actionable and measurable goals. This will help to foster accountability across your team and ensure your nonprofit has a way to check on your progress. Aly Sterling Philanthropy’s guide to building a fundraising strategy recommends setting your fundraising goal by:
- Completing a feasibility study. If your nonprofit is planning to host a capital campaign, the results from a feasibility study will indicate whether you should move forward and if your fundraising goal is realistic. A feasibility study allows you to determine how viable a given project is, potential challenges you can expect along the way and how your nonprofit can improve its fundraising plan. This process will involve hiring a consultant to set up interviews with key stakeholders and using supporters’ feedback to hone your goals and approach.
- Analyzing past data. Using your CRM or fundraising platform, take a close look at metrics from past fundraising campaigns, such as how much you raised, your donor retention rate and other valuable metrics. Examining this data can reveal trends in your past fundraising efforts, such as regularly surpassing your fundraising goals (indicating that it’s time to reach higher) or a low retention rate (indicating that it’s time to re-evaluate your donor communications strategy.)
Using these insights, you can develop a reasonable fundraising goal that’s challenging but within reach for your organization. Then, you can break down your fundraising goal and what it takes to achieve it with the help of a gift range chart. A gift range chart shows how many donors you need at different gift levels to meet your overall goal.
As you build out your chart, you’ll likely find that the number of prospects decreases as the gift amount increases. For instance, you might only have 3 prospects with the capacity and willingness to give $200,000 to your organization. Since bigger gifts can carry more weight when hitting your fundraising goal, it’s critical that you dedicate the right amount of time and resources into stewarding relationships with these major donors.
To strengthen your major gift fundraising plan, you need to assemble a strong team. Along with filling key roles like a major gift officer and prospect researchers, your nonprofit will benefit from the invaluable expertise of a fundraising consultant.
A nonprofit fundraising consultant can bring a fresh perspective to your fundraising approach and help you:
- Shape your fundraising strategy and develop meaningful goals
- Determine which key performance indicators (KPIs) to track
- Hold interviews with stakeholders during the feasibility study
- Strengthen your campaign case for support
- Identify effective donor stewardship activities
- Build a communications strategy
- Engage your board and involve them in the fundraising process
Ask your network of nonprofit peers for consulting firm recommendations and check with professional organizations, foundations and other nonprofit hubs for suggestions. Re:Charity’s guide to the top nonprofit consulting firms recommends doing your research to find a reputable consultant whose approach aligns well with your organization’s culture, as you’ll be building a relationship that could last long after the campaign ends.
Ask yourself the following questions when evaluating consulting firms:
- Does the consultant have experience with similar projects or organizations?
- Are they recommended for being collaborative and organized?
- Do they have an interest in your cause and specific organization?
- Are they direct and respectful in answering questions?
- Can they provide you with references from previous engagements?
Once you’ve found a fundraising consultant that seems like a good fit, request a proposal for services. This document should reflect any conversations you’ve had with the consultant and include their recommendations for services and fees.
Ask the consultant to present the proposal to you and your board so you can ask questions and make constructive changes. Remember, your board will be instrumental in helping your campaign succeed (especially as they will help meet with major donors and even contribute their own gifts), so securing their approval will set your campaign on the right course.
Your fundraising case for support is your elevator pitch for what you do and why, and why your nonprofit is worthy of your donors’ support. It can be printed as a brochure or booklet, added to your website, shared on social media and even integrated into speeches. Essentially, a case for support outlines a clear vision for your nonprofit’s future work and how your desired financial goals will be used to achieve that.
In your case for support, provide answers to the following questions:
- What is your organization’s general mission?
- Why is your mission needed?
- What actions do you take to achieve that mission?
- Why is the campaign needed? What will it result in?
- How much are you looking to raise via the campaign?
- What will these donations go toward and how will this advance your mission?
A strong case for support isn’t only valuable to your donors! Your case for support will become a vital resource for staff and volunteers to reference when advocating for your nonprofit and promoting your campaign. This will ensure your messaging and communications are aligned as you get the word out about your campaign.
When you’re ready to ask for donations from your major donors, you’ll need to create compelling proposals that inspire action. Use these tips to ensure your asks resonate with your donors:
- Add a human element. Leverage your existing relationships with your major donors and infuse their interests into your request. For example, if your animal welfare nonprofit is hosting a capital campaign to build a brand new animal shelter—and you have a major donor who is particularly passionate about cats—you could highlight the different features of your facility that will benefit cats in need. You should also greet your major donors with their first name and reference their past contributions to your nonprofit.
- Leverage storytelling. Highlight the beneficiaries of your nonprofit who will benefit from this fundraising campaign. This helps major donors see the tangible connection between their contributions and the impact it will have on the community.
- Make your ask specific. Spell out exactly what you’re looking for from a major donor. This ask amount should be reasonable based on their past donation history with your organization or what you learned about their giving capacity from prospect research.
Don’t jump into making a donation request too soon! It’s important that your team dedicates ample time towards getting to know your major donors, forming relationships and immersing them deeper into your mission.
A strong donor cultivation strategy should consist of meeting with your donors face-to-face, communicating regularly with them, asking for their feedback and inviting them to learn more about your mission, such as by volunteering. As your relationship evolves and solidifies, you can begin soliciting major gifts.
Major gift fundraising can take your mission to the next level, but you’ll need to put in considerable time and effort into crafting a strong major gift strategy. Work with a fundraising consulting firm to build a major gift fundraising plan of action and identify ways you can improve your internal operations for greater success. Backed by the support of your team and an expert consultant, you can create a sustainable pipeline of major donors.
About the Author:
Long before Aly Sterling founded her eponymous consulting firm, she was solving the unique yet similar problems encountered by nonprofit organizations.
Her decision to start her own business in 2007 was driven by her belief in leadership as the single most important factor in organizational success, and her determination to work with multiple causes at one time to scale societal change.
Aly’s expertise includes fundraising, strategic planning, search consultation and board leadership development for the well-positioned nonprofit. She is regularly sought for comment by trade and mainstream media, including the Chronicle of Philanthropy and U.S. News & World Report. She has contributed to publications of BoardSource and The Governance Institute, as well as the Toledo Chamber of Commerce and The Giving Institute.
For more information visit alysterling.com.