I often refer to capital campaigns as major gift fundraising on steroids. Of course, capital campaigns are so much more than that. However, major gift fundraising is one critical component of all successful capital campaigns.

Major gift fundraising plays a crucial role in the quiet phase of your campaign — that’s the period when you’re likely to raise approximately 70% of your campaign goal from 20 of your largest donors.

So, for today’s post, I turned to my colleague, Jeff Schreifels, at the Veritus Group for some best practice, major gift fundraising tips.

Getting to Your Top 10 Donors

Amy Eisenstein:  When an organization is getting started with major gift fundraising, how do you recommend identifying the top 10 prospects for major gift fundraising?

Jeff Schreifels:  For really new or small organizations, the best place to start is with your board. Reach out to your board members, especially those who are giving at the major gift level and ask them to introduce you to other people they know who they think would also be passionate about your organization.

If you do have a donor database already, I guarantee you already have major donors in your donor file. Start by looking to see which donors are already giving at the $500+ or $1,000+ level and start reaching out to them using our qualification process.

You can also use a variety of free tools to learn more about these donors to understand potential capacity. But remember, capacity is only part of the equation — you need to understand the donor’s interests and passions and how those connect to your organization’s mission.

Amy:  What are the best strategies for cultivating and engaging those top 10 donors?

Jeff:  Once you’ve qualified that first initial group of major donors, you’ll want to create a 12-month communication plan to make sure you are creating a manageable system that helps you learn your donor’s passions and interests and keep connecting your donor to your mission. We recommend doing a mix of touch points throughout the year, including:

  • Reporting on the impact of the donor’s gift.
  • Sharing insider information.
  • Using third-party resources to reinforce the work you’re doing.

Ultimately, the most impactful things you can do to properly cultivate these donors are promptly and genuinely thanking the donor for their gift, reporting on the impact of their gift to show how the donor is making a difference, and continuing to authentically build trust to learn the donor’s passions and interests.

Amy:  This is great, because if you’ve done this well prior to a capital campaign, you’ll be in great shape to solicit campaign gifts from these same donors.

Asking for Gifts

Amy:  Regardless of whether you’re in a campaign, how do you know when it’s time to ask for a gift? What should fundraisers be asking and listening for?

Jeff:  The most important indicator that you’re ready to ask for a gift is that you have an offer that is aligned with the donor’s interests.

If you’ve qualified your donor, which means you’ve engaged in two-way conversation with the donor, and you’ve created a plan where you’re sending the donor information that is of value and interest to them, then the donor will be ready to discuss an opportunity to support an area that they are passionate about.

Other things to look at are when the donor typically gives throughout the year and what the donor is responding to most from your communication.

Amy:  That’s great. A capital campaign is a great opportunity to provide a specific giving opportunity.

3 Tips for Building Authentic Relationships

Amy:  What other tips do you have for fundraisers as they start to build more authentic relationships?

Jeff:  Remember that when you put the donor relationship first, the money will follow. We recommend creating some open-ended questions so you can continue to build trust in your relationship. Creating an authentic relationship is about seeing the donor as more than ATM machine.

1. Find the Time to Build Relationships

Now when you’re in a small organization or if you’re a development team of one, finding time for building these relationships can be really challenging. The first things to do is make sure you’ve adjusted the caseload expectations for what works for you. For a full-time MGO, we recommend a caseload of 150 donors. If you only have 10% of your time that you can dedicate to major gifts, then your caseload should only be 15 donors.

2. Work on Your Emotional Intelligence Skills

Another tip is to spend time really working on your own emotional intelligence skills. This will help you tune in to your donor to see when you need to ask questions, better understand their responses, and make sure that you’re recognizing your own emotions in any given situation.

3. Focus on Transparency

Lastly, focus on honesty and transparency. Nothing breaks trust like a lack of transparency or not being truthful. For example, let’s say you have a donor who makes a gift to one of your programs. The program doesn’t go as planned. You need to share that, honestly, with your donor and communicate updates throughout. It can be easy to want to just hide it, but that won’t help you create authentic donor relationships.

Amy:  Yes, yes, yes! I wholeheartedly agree.

Major Gift Fundraising Obstacles

Amy:  What are some obstacles organizations face with getting started in major gifts, and how can they overcome that?

Jeff:  The biggest obstacles we hear are [lack of] time and generally knowing what to focus on first. It’s okay to start small and ramp up.

Another challenge we often see if that organizations don’t realize the potential they have for major gifts. Usually that’s coupled with leadership that doesn’t understand the economic importance of major gifts or the proper expectations to have when creating a program.

Creating buy-in and understanding across the organization is critical when creating a major gift program. You’ll want to spend time educating the rest of your team, especially Program and Finance, on the role of donors, what donors need so they continue giving, and how this program will be different or require a different kind of fundraising.

You’ll also want to ensure you have board support and board members who were recruited to help out in key areas of your organization, including development.

Going Further with Major Gift Fundraising

Major donors are the key to successful capital campaigns. This becomes more obvious when you develop a gift range chart, which is a key tool in capital campaign fundraising.

Become a Confident Major Gift Fundraiser

If you’re looking to develop your major gift program prior to starting a Capital Campaign, check out our Major Gift Coaching program:

Major Gift Fundraising Coaching »

You’d be surprised just how much progress you can make with some expert coaching.

You simply cannot raise enough money with small gifts to accomplish a big goal, which is why major gift donors are such a crucial part of any capital campaign.


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