Major Gifts: Build Your Program and Earn More Donations

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Do you dream about your nonprofit doing more for your mission? Wouldn’t it be great if someone with the means enough to make a major difference loved your cause so much that they made a significant gift to your organization? Better yet, how about having a ton of people like that?

These dreams can become reality—really. But they’re not just going to fall out of the sky. You have to work for them by finding out who’s interested in your mission, making connections, bringing them into your world, and most importantly, asking them to walk with you in helping others.

Welcome to the world of major gift fundraising. In this guide, we’ll cover everything you need to know about starting a major gifts program and maximizing the funding for your nonprofit. Specifically, we’ll discuss the following:

Ready to learn more about effectively soliciting major gifts and pursuing much-needed donor support? Let’s jump in.

Frequently Asked Questions About Major Gifts

Whether you’re looking to create a major gifts program for the first time or simply aiming to revamp your current major gift fundraising strategy, you likely have some questions about the process. That’s why we’ve compiled and answered some of the most-asked questions on the subject here!

What are major donors?

Let’s start off by defining what a major donor is. The basic answer is easy: anything you want it to be! It seems a bit loose, but it’s true. There are no hard and fast rules when it comes to defining a major gift. What’s “major” to you could be considered “regular” or even “minor” by another nonprofit, and your definition could be unattainable to others.

Your organization can define major gifts as anything you want that suits your circumstances. However, it’s a good idea to have a set standard for your nonprofit, so here are some ways to come to an answer:

  • Major gifts as defined by a dollar amount. This is the most popular definition. What dollar number seems big to you? If you regularly get $25 gifts, then $1,000 might be major. If you regularly get $10,000 gifts, perhaps anything over $100,000 is major. It’s all up to you, and will likely vary based on your typical donation size.
  • Major gifts as defined by a percent of your donations. What defines the top five percent, or even one percent of gifts to your nonprofit? You can draw the line there to decide what constitutes a major gift.
  • Major gifts as transformational to your nonprofit. What size gift would transform your nonprofit? How big does a gift have to be to make a substantial difference? Underlying this question is a well-defined strategic plan for your nonprofit’s future. For example, imagine you’re a nonprofit that rents office space. To really move your mission forward, you need to buy a bigger space so you can run your programs more effectively. In this case, gifts of, say, more than 10% of the total building cost could determine your definition of a major gift.
  • Major gifts as a stretch for your constituency. Complete an analysis of your current donor base and figure out what they can give. In a campaign setting, this is usually called a feasibility study, but you don’t need to be in a campaign to use the methodology. Most prospect research firms can analyze your donor list and help estimate their giving potential to define what a major gift would be for your supporters.
  • Major gifts as defined by an emotional response. This is a popular definition because it makes major gifts feel real rather than an arbitrary, abstract number. Ask yourself, “at what level, if someone came in with a gift of that amount, would you celebrate with a party, and maybe even give the staff member a day off?” That number is your definition of a major gift.

Whatever definitions and numbers you use, your idea of a major gift should be reviewed at least annually. If you start out defining “major” at $1,000 and become successful at it, you’ll want to look at potentially upping the minimum to $2,500 or $5,000 the following year.

Before we step away from your definition of a major gift, make sure you define how a gift is made as well. Let’s look at three possibilities that are not just one-time gifts of cash or its equivalent (like stocks or bonds):

  • Multi-year pledges: For example, let’s say $100,000 is a major gift for your organization. Is it okay for someone to make a five-year pledge to pay $20,000 each year and still be considered a major gift donor?
  • Planned gifts: Will you take an insurance policy? A bequest intention in a will? A life-income agreement such as a charitable gift annuity? Do these types of planned gifts count toward your major gifts program?
  • Gifts-in-kind: What if someone gives you a boat worth $100,000, a piece of land, or even a business? Would those non-cash donations be considered major gifts?

It’s a good idea to answer these questions now, before diving too deep into your major gifts strategy. This forethought will save you a lot of time and energy when the gifts are considered.

How do you identify a major gift prospect?

Most major gift programs define their target donors as individuals or family units making personal gifts. However, there’s no absolute reason to exclude foundations and businesses from your major gift definition. In fact, some people who you’ll target as prospects for a major, personal gift will own businesses or control assets in a foundation or donor-advised fund.

Make sure that you see the donor as they see themselves. While you may see a person and a business or foundation as separate, and legally they are, the person making the giving decision could well see all of these as one unit. That means you need to approach them as one giving unit and let them decide which pocket supplies the final gift amount.

Once you define a major gift and the nature of the prospects, how do you spot a major gift donor? Let’s start with the CIA method.

No, not the spy agency! When it comes to major gifts fundraising, CIA stands for Capacity, Interest, and Access. To get any gift, major or not, you need CIA. Without even one of the three, there’s likely no gift. For major donors, in particular, the “C” makes a world of difference. Let’s break down each element in greater detail:

  • Capacity: For major gifts, this is where it counts. The person you’re asking needs to have the means, or have control of the means to make the gift in the amount you’re asking. If your prospect does not have the capacity to make a major gift, you’re not going to get one—regardless of how much they care about your mission.
  • Interest: The stronger the interest in your mission, the bigger the gift. If a donor doesn’t care about the problem you’re trying to solve, you’re not likely to get a gift, whether they have the money to or not. No interest, no gift!
  • Access: Finally, you need to have a connection to your donor. If you’re talking about a letter, you need a postal address. If an email, then an email address. For a personal solicitation, you need to meet them face-to-face (via video or in-person). Simply put: if you can’t get to them, how can you make your ask?

It doesn’t occur to most people that it’s best to start with identifying people with interest, rather than capacity. That’s because by identifying enough people with high interest, the odds that some will have the capacity to make a major gift are high. If someone really loves your mission, they will find a way to support you in a way that is above your expectations.

Next, you have to consider what your ideal donor looks like. What are their personal characteristics? Are they well educated? Where do they live? Do they fall into categories based on ethnicity, religion, gender, type of home, or style of dress?

Don’t forget to include indicators of strong interest, as discussed above. Do they show up for your events? Have they supported your fundraisers in the past? Be as specific as you can. Some nonprofits will create an illustration to make a strong visual image.

When done well, it turns out that your profile will expand, not limit your pool of prospects. Why? Because you have given your brain a definition to find. For example, if you drive a certain car, you likely see a lot of that model on the road. You might check out the different colors, models, or modifications. But the reality is, no matter what car you drive, there are not as many on the road as you think. Your mind is just trained to spot them, and now you’re training your brain to do the same with major gift prospects.

Just remember, your profile is a guideline rather than an absolute. If you identify someone who is a major prospect who meets 75% of your definition, that’s certainly okay.

As you’re building your profile, consider who in your current database might fit your definition. You may have unidentified major prospects right under your nose! You’ll also want to consider that major wealth doesn’t always show. For more on this, check out The Millionaire Next Door book series by Thomas Stanley.

How do you secure a major gift?

Now, the big question… how do you get a major gift? The answer is remarkably simple: you ask.

Really, can it be that easy? It turns out it is. The biggest obstacle is the solicitor’s frame of mind.

The nature of asking anyone for anything is to put yourself in a less powerful position. Think about the last time you asked a parent or grandparent for money (even if it was forever ago). It probably wasn’t comfortable, and for some, it’s almost physically painful. You might even say it was like begging. No wonder people don’t like fundraising! Begging is no way to build a nonprofit that does great things and deserves the community’s support, especially when it comes to major gifts.

Luckily, there’s an alternative, and it comes with a handy formula: 1-2-1/4-1. One-to-one (your and your donor) for one (the person who is receiving the benefits of your mission).

This “formula” defines the nature of a successful relationship between a solicitor and donor and the purpose of the solicitation. As an added bonus, it’s also easy to remember.

The nature of any solicitation should be “one-to-one,” whether in person, by mail, or in another way. You and the donor are in partnership for a cause. It’s not begging. Why? (And this is important!) Because you are not asking for your own benefit. Instead, it is fundraising because you are asking for the benefit of someone else. You’re not even asking for your nonprofit. You’re asking for the person who receives the services of your nonprofit, the end constituent.

The 1-2-1 partnership to help someone else is the leveler between you and your prospect. The donor meets their goal by providing the resources, whether that’s because of their dedication to the cause, an interest in the community, a need for a tax deduction, or another reason. You meet your goal by driving your nonprofit’s mission forward. Together, you serve the person who ultimately benefits from your nonprofit.

How do you start a major gift program?

One person makes one solicitation for a major gift, and that’s a major gift ask. One person makes a lot of asks, and you’ve got a major gifts officer. More than one person making more than one ask, and you’ve got yourself a major gifts program.

So what exactly constitutes a major gifts program? A major gifts program has:

  • Goals. Financial goals, yes, but real financial goals are your mission’s program goals reduced to numbers.
  • Messaging: Messaging is your program goals described in a way that your donor can understand and put in light of the people who benefit from your mission.
  • A list: The better your list of major donors and prospects, the more successful your solicitations will be. What makes a good list? The people on it should follow the CIA method of prospect profiling!

The key to a successful major gifts program is the coordination of resources and consistency of messaging. This drives toward meeting your fundraising, programmatic, and mission-based goals—all from a list of people to ask.

Best Practices for Soliciting Major Gifts

The steps to getting any charitable gift are remarkably similar, regardless of the solicitation method. They are especially important to follow in major gift fundraising. Let’s walk through these four basic steps:

  1. Identifying your prospect – Know who your prospect is.
  2. Engaging your prospect – Make contact with the prospect and introduce them to your mission. Take steps to get to know them and let them get to know you, your nonprofit, and your mission.
  3. Soliciting your prospect – Make the ask.
  4. Stewarding your donor – Say thank you, and show your gratitude for their gift.

But how can you follow each of these stages effectively? Take these best practices into consideration at every step of the way.

Identify your donor through prospect research.

When was the last time you hired a plumber, electrician, or mechanic? You likely did an online search to find who was nearby. You read reviews. Maybe you asked some friends or neighbors—all before you made the call.

You identified who you needed through prospect research. Nonprofit prospect research isn’t too much different. You’re just looking in different places and using different data sets.

And in the end, prospect research is to find out who has the C, I, and A to be a donor at the dollar level you need to support your mission.

Start with you, your board, your development committee, your staff, or your fundraisers to make a list of everyone you know who might even have the slightest interest in your mission. Show everyone in that group the list, and mark it with columns each for C, I, and A. For example, for I, does the person on the list show no interest in your mission, have a mild interest, or show great interest?

Then conduct a brief online search to collect additional information such as where they work and in what capacity, any interest indicators, other organizations they belong to, and other nonprofits they serve.

Notice that we haven’t yet contacted a professional prospect researcher. That’s because you can do much of the process yourself. Only after you get to the point where you are certain that there is some potential, perhaps even after your first meeting with a prospect, should you do an in-depth study on whether they would be interested in a deeper relationship with your organization.

Through a variety of online tools like prospect research databases, you can determine who in your network has the capacity to make a gift of the size you need, or who might have an affinity toward your mission.

Finally, be broad. You don’t know people’s history or interests. For example, you may not know that the mother of a highly successful business person had an alcohol problem. That makes that individual a good potential prospect for your substance abuse clinic.

Build personal relationships with major donors and prospects.

Once identified, you move to the engagement and cultivation steps.

In major gifts work, engagement is all about connections. Who in your network, or the network of your volunteers, knows the person and can make an introduction? Perhaps it’s for lunch at a club, coffee before work, or drinks afterward? You could get an introduction at a chamber of commerce mixer or an event for another nonprofit. The point is that this should be planned, not random.

Then, it’s up to you to evaluate their interest in your mission and invite them to get to know your organization and any particular projects you have in mind. They could be with a tour, an introduction to a program manager, a meeting with a client or mission recipient, or any number of dozens of activities.
The point of all of this is to build their interest—or their “I“—so that they can see themselves being a major part of the solution you’re trying to achieve for your beneficiaries. You are making them an insider, or a partner, in your organization through deep, interpersonal relationships.

Determine the targeted ask.

Ah, but how much to ask? Too little and they may not take your cause seriously. Too much and they won’t see themselves as part of the solution.

Unfortunately, there’s no secret formula to determine the perfect ask. But here’s what to consider in creating a strategic plan:

  • Their enthusiasm for your mission and the specific project you are discussing with them. The more enthusiasm for your work, the more they will stretch to help you.
  • Their gifts to other nonprofits. This may be your best indicator for a baseline. Consider that you should ask at least what they gave to a similar organization.
  • Their position in your community. If they see themselves as a leader, they may be interested in showing that by appearing higher on your donor lists.
  • Their assets and salary. Can you get this? Sometimes, yes. They may even tell you. A prospect researcher might find out if they own a high interest in a company. You can easily evaluate their home value online, and see if they have other properties as well. Sometimes, hobby assets are a good indicator of wealth. Boats and small aircraft are notorious money pits, so you need a certain level of wealth to afford them.
  • Their life stage. Are they building a career? Have small children? Growing wealth? Retired? This is a major indicator of their relative assets and inclination to give. Someone with children may have school fees and other expenses that eat into their disposable income. Empty nesters, however, have shed much of their financial responsibilities and are ready to make major gifts to organizations like yours.

By considering a number (or all) of these elements when determining your exact ask, you set yourself up for an increased likelihood for success.

Show your appreciation and follow up with major gifts.

Stewardship is too often overlooked because once a gift is made, there’s pressure to find the next gift. This is short-term thinking. In long-term, sustainable fundraising, great stewardship will lead to the next great gift.

So what to do?

Number one, say thank you! Obvious, huh? Yes, but so often overlooked. And don’t stop at one. A handwritten note, a personal phone call, a visit (when you can do that), a small token gift, anything that recognizes that their gift was valued. Don’t forget to be prompt. If someone makes a gift that’s important to your mission, don’t wait to connect with them.

After that, keep them involved. This is probably the biggest mistake people make after receiving a gift. They gave because they cared, so show your donor the results of their caring.

Of course, depending on your mission, doing things like introducing them to your beneficiaries or whisking them off to the other side of the world may not be possible. Logistics and privacy concerns can get in the way. That’s where letters, photos, and videos from constituents can make a big difference. If you did your job to make them an insider, they’ll understand the issues in a real way.

In some cases, you’ll also want to create financial reports on how their gift was spent. You’ll likely know whether this would be appreciated by your earlier interactions with the donor. It’s also a great opportunity to engage your accounting staff in the fundraising process!

3 Things You Need For a Successful Major Gifts Program

Although there are certainly a ton of moving parts when it comes to managing an effective major gifts program for your organization (especially if you’re building it from the ground up!), these three things can really set your team up for success:

Effective Major Gifts Officers

In some organizations, being a major gift officer is akin to being a navy fighter pilot on the nonprofit aircraft carrier. It’s what many aspire to, and where most think the action is.

Fancy sunglasses, travel opportunities, and cool uniforms (err, nice suits) aside, an effective major gift officer has a difficult job. Contrary to mythology, they’re not all slap-their-back extroverts, either. They are able to interact with a variety of people and cultures and keep good records of their interactions.

Most of all, a great major gift officer is a great relationship builder. And not just one relationship. Dozens, each with its own nuances, and each at a different stage, all that lead to a gift to their nonprofit.

Some might think that this requires a measure of insincerity. Nothing could be further from the truth. It’s the major gift officer’s sincere commitment to their nonprofit’s mission that makes them the most successful. Their job isn’t about extracting as much as they can out of each prospect, or going for the easy “low-hanging fruit” gifts. A major gift officer works best when they discern the need of the donor and match it to the need of the mission.

A good major gift officer can pick up the signals and propose a gift that is a true win-win—for the donor and the nonprofit.

Powerful Nonprofit Software

Everyone is human, and to keep focused on relationships, it helps a major gift officer to have a solid donor database in hand. In fact, you could argue that a good database is the heart of every nonprofit’s fundraising program at every level—from direct mail and grant proposals to major gifts and planned giving.

Some business CRMs (or customer relationship management programs) can be adapted for nonprofit use. Yet a database tailored specifically for nonprofit fundraising (also known as a gift processing program or donor management system) enables the major gift officer to get a holistic view of the donor’s relationship with the nonprofit. The most important function of this class of programs is their ability to record and report on a variety of charitable contributions.

For example, few business CRMs can be modified to record multi-year pledges or the charitable gift amount from an event ticket purchase, properly report on gifts-in-kind, or provide present value calculations on planned gifts. Yet it would not be unusual for a major donor to engage in all of these kinds of giving over a short period of time.

Combine these features with the ability to record each step in a relationship, the traditional purview of a CRM, and the nonprofit gift processing program can be a very powerful tool for any major gifts officer.

Strategic Training Resources

Nobody is born a major gifts officer. Few people even imagined it as a career out of high school or college. So, while some people may have a natural inclination toward the best traits of a successful in-person fundraiser, education and training can make a significant difference in their success—and the success of their nonprofit’s mission.

It starts by knowing the basics of fundraising—CIA, donor profiles, the fundraising cycle, and more. It also helps to have a solid grasp of what your software can do so you can fully utilize its capacity to record and project relationships and identify new donors.

Keeping up with new methods of giving also helps. Every day new donors come into a major gift pool who are younger and more adapted to the technology of philanthropy—like peer-to-peer campaigns. A major gift officer can’t afford to say “that doesn’t apply to me, ignore these new methods.” Their donor will be disappointed that the expert they know can’t explain how their grandson’s school is raising money for their sports program.

Then, there are the changing tax laws. These aren’t just the concern of planned giving officers who work with retirement plans, gift annuities, bequests, and trusts. To be helpful to donors, you need to be up-to-date on deductibility rules, changes in how assets can be gifted, and more.

Perhaps the most important training someone can get is about how they make and maintain relationships. That’s all about knowing yourself. For example, there are studies on how one’s Myers Briggs profile impacts their fundraising approach. Knowing that about yourself and exploring similar ideas can make you a much more effective fundraiser altogether.


More than 70% of American philanthropy comes from individuals, and if you count what assets those individuals control among businesses, foundations, and bequests, that number may even reach the high eighties. Nonprofits who ignore major gifts from individuals are leaving a lot of philanthropy on the table.

And major gifts bring other rewards as well. The relationships built through major gifts bring community engagement, and with it, increased awareness for your mission. Major gifts are not just about big money. They’re about giving the people you serve the kind of services they deserve.

In other words, major gifts are about your mission at its best.

For more information on strategic fundraising and other nonprofit operations, be sure to check out these additional resources:

Learn more about major gifts and other fundraising strategies with Nonprofit Courses.

Building a Fundraising Strategy: Resources and Ideas

For a LOT of nonprofits (perhaps even most), their strategic plan for fundraising consists of two words: get money.

Someone comes up with an idea to run a gala, sell something, send out letters or emails—and that’s what they do. The method picked has a lot to do with who makes the suggestion and what that person has either done in the past or is comfortable with based on their personality. This isn’t to say that these are bad ideas. They certainly have the potential to raise money.

So, if you’re already getting revenue from what you do, is it even important to be strategic? And if you aren’t, will a fundraising strategy even help? The answer to both of these questions is yes.

While whatever tactic you came up with might meet your immediate needs, chances are you can raise even more money with some higher level, deliberate thinking—a lot of which you never consider as “fundraising.”

At Nonprofit Courses, we specialize in providing nonprofits like yours with powerful, on-demand training on a variety of subjects. Luckily, that includes strategic fundraising. We’ve put together this useful guide for professionals like yourself who are looking to up their fundraising efforts and create a more effective, innovative plan. Here, we’ll cover the following key steps and best practices for doing so:

Are you ready to learn more about building an effective fundraising strategy and raising the much-needed funds for your mission? Let’s jump in.

Craft a Detailed Fundraising Strategy Plan

The first step in building a fundraising strategy is to create a detailed fundraising plan that lays out your goals and how you plan to achieve them. And what’s a vital component of this fundraising plan? Your case for support.

Your case for support tells the world exactly why you deserve their money. It’s intimately tied to the most important part of your nonprofit: your mission. The case addresses key questions such as these:

  • Why is your mission important?
  • What happens if your mission is ignored?
  • What are the benefits to those who rely on your mission?
  • How does your mission impact the community at large?

Your “internal case” is a longer document that defines the need for funding your nonprofit–and nobody outside your organization may ever see it. What the public sees are the parts of the case that are relevant to how you are asking for money and who is getting asked–often called the “external case.”

But what all should be considered when crafting your overarching fundraising plan? Let’s look at the following elements:

People

No method of fundraising runs itself, so you need to start with your people–and specifically the willingness, availability, and skills they can offer. Willingness and availability often go hand in hand. The more enthusiastic about the mission of your organization, the more someone will be willing to help, and make their time available to you, regardless of their other commitments.

Skills are another story. The most enthusiastic person for your mission may not have the technical or soft skills required to handle a task. But don’t make the mistake of thinking that fundraising is only an extrovert’s game. Direct mail, online fundraising, grant-writing, and much of the behind-the-scenes work like properly recording gifts into your database and paying vendors are all made for introverts as well. The bottom line: everyone can play a meaningful role in your revenue generation program.

Infrastructure

Every fundraising method makes use of some sort of technology, whether in the act of raising money, in preparation for the activity, or after the gifts are made. Thus, it’s essential that you ask yourself whether your organization has sufficient tools in your toolbox to get the job done effectively, along with questions like these:

  • What does your technology look like?
  • Do you need to upgrade your software to handle more gifts?
  • Do you need new technology to automate or streamline operations?
  • And while you’re at it, how are your facilities?
  • Does anything need a facelift before you bring in visitors?

A lot of what you’ll need depends on the method of fundraising you select, but it’s a good idea to begin asking yourself these vital questions early on in the process.

Policies

Creating policies before they’re needed has saved headaches for thousands of nonprofits worldwide. But what kind of policies will you need?

  • Gift acceptance
  • Donor recognition/acknowledgment
  • Gift recording/entry
  • Confidentiality and ethics
  • Board giving

When you have specific documentation surrounding these instances created ahead of time you can ensure your processes are standardized and effective throughout your entire team.

Prospects

Who typically makes gifts to your organization? You have a choice here–dig deeper to find more of the same types of people or look for new prospects that are out of your traditional mold. Either way, you need to create a donor profile.

A donor profile is a specific description of the arch-typical donor you seek. For example, are they male or female? Where do they live? What is their income range? Be as detailed as you can. A profile doesn’t mean that you can’t or won’t seek money from the real-world people outside your imaginary ideal. But it does give everyone a model so they can spot the elements of your ideal donor immediately–and that can help you save time and raise more money for your cause.

Whether your prospects are already in a database or you’re searching for new ones, every prospect needs three attributes to make a gift: capacity, interest, and access (also known as CIA):

  • They have to have the capacity to make the requested gift.
  • They have to have an interest in your mission.
  • You have to have access to them in whatever way you’re going to solicit the gift.

Without all three, you likely won’t get anything. If you do, it will be much less than what could have come to your organization. As you work with donors, your goal is to identify these attributes–and your database is where you store the information.

Goals

Fundraising goals typically come in two types: how many dollars you raise and how many donors you get. You might ask, “why should we care about how many donors we get as long as we get the money we need?” The answer comes in the form of another question: “Would you rather have one gift of $1,000,000, or a million gifts of $1.00?”

Getting one gift of $1,000,000 is great. The problem is that in most cases, it’s not going to be repeatable. That means you have to find another $1,000,000 gift next year, probably from somebody else. Million-dollar gifts don’t just come immediately–or easily. You have to work diligently to build these major donor relationships over time.

1,000,000 gifts of $1.00 might sound daunting too, but in other ways. To get that many, you probably need 4,000,000 prospects, and solicitations of that volume are going to cost a lot of money. The truth is that you need both–many small gifts supplemented by a few (or several) significant gifts. Big gifts give a huge boost to your program but take time. Small gifts don’t make as much impact but are more immediate. Both are required for a healthy fundraising strategy.

It’s important to keep in mind that fundraising is not a monolithic venture. It’s actually best made up of a number of fundraising programs to support your many mission needs. So, at this point, you need to determine exactly which programs within your organization require what kind of funding and where other funding might be available to support them.

For example, some of your programs may have a fee-for-service component, like tuition costs. In that case, charitable gifts will provide the funds required to make an excellent program where tuition might only fund a decent program.

Now, let’s say you come up with the final number for what you need. How are you going to get there? That’s where the scale of gifts comes in. A scale of gifts tells us how many gifts at each level are required to meet a particular fundraising goal–whether that’s your overall goal or a particular campaign.

Let’s go back to that $1,000,000 need. It’s not realistic to think that you’re going to get a single, $1,000,000 gift, nor is it probable that you’ll get a million $1.00 gifts. So what is realistic?

The scale of gifts, or gift range chart, sets up a pyramid of sorts that tells you that you’ll probably need at least one gift of $250,000, two or three at $100,000, a number of $50,000, $25,000, $10,000, and down the line. It’s also important to remember that for every gift you get, you’ll probably need four, maybe five prospects. Therefore, the scale of gifts will tell you how many people need to be on your list so you can meet your funding goals.

Now that you’ve compiled the various information that goes into your strategic fundraising plan, the next step is to match what you have in terms of mission, resources, intended prospects, and goals with be kind of fundraising method that will be most effective for your audience and organization. Let’s discuss a few best practices here:

Explore Available Grant Funding

Grant funding is one of the most well-known and effective ways of raising money for an organization. It all seems rather logical. Fill out an application; get money. Yet as you might expect, there’s a lot more to it than that.

For example, you have to be very specific about what you need and why you need it (remember the case for support, as discussed above). You need to carefully examine the requirements so that you are meeting the funder’s mission as much as your own. That said, you should be sure to vet potential grants carefully so you can choose to collect funding from like-minded institutions as yourself.

Probably most important, however, is that you have a relationship with the funder to the extent that the grant-giving institution allows.

Take Advantage of Corporate Giving

Even in today’s economy, businesses can be a good source of nonprofit funding. But you have to keep one thing in mind: what’s in it for them? It’s not that they don’t want to help or that they’re being greedy. It’s that every business, even of the “mom & pop” variety, is there to make money for their owners and employees. Thus, it’s important to look for opportunities to help them while simultaneously supporting your own organization.

For example, can your fundraising work drive customers to them? Can you increase their visibility within a targeted group, like the people who suffer from the disease your mission is determined to address? Do you supply their business with employees, or do their employees volunteer with or contribute to your nonprofit?

Just like with grants, corporate fundraising is built on relationships. Don’t expect that a business will give you money out of obligation or guilt. Longer-term support always stems because they want to support your cause and the constituents you serve.

Plan and Host Engaging Fundraising Events

Events are the stock and trade of a huge swath of the nonprofit sector. (Get a laugh from this clip from the Judy Garland/Mickey Rooney movie classic, “Babes in Arms.” Does it remind you of a nonprofit committee meeting?)

The good news is that even when people can’t be in the same room, a lot of people want to be seen with each other, supporting a good cause. In their seminal book, The Seven Faces of Philanthropy, Karen Maru File and Russ Alan Prince came up with a name for them and their giving profile: the Socialites. They want to have fun while doing good.

For a nonprofit, a major attraction for special event fundraising is scalability. You can do an intimate dinner party around a dining room table, or a walk-a-thon for thousands. You can make it a black-tie event at a high-end art exhibit, or a beef ‘n beer at the local firehouse. Special events are great ways to deliver messages about your mission while also raising money for your cause–just don’t forget to collect the names of everyone attending so you can connect with them later.

Emphasize Strategic Donor Cultivation Efforts

In any fundraising method, relationships are key. And the fundraising-ese word for building relationships with donors? Cultivation. And effective fundraising requires strategic cultivation.

This means keeping the end goal in mind. Fundraising experts David Dunlop and Buck Smith developed a system known as Moves Management, which assigns roles to staff and volunteers who carry out specific cultivation steps that lead to a gift. These steps can be highly targeted to a donor for a single gift, or broadly applied to many donors simultaneously.

The whole idea is to be intentional and make every contact with your donor or prospect lead to a solicitation. This makes a lot of sense, yet most fundraising cultivation, even for the biggest gifts, is based on ad hoc activities that are made up as the process evolves. Being strategic with your cultivation efforts can save a lot of time, build confidence in your staff and volunteers, and lead to much more significant funding from whomever you ask.

Invest in Powerful Fundraising Software

“Make the list, work the list.” The better list you have, the better you’ll be able to match your prospective donor with your nonprofit’s need, estimate the appropriate gift amount, and make the ask. The idea is that every gift should be a win-win for both the donor and the nonprofit. Fundraising software is key in making that happen.

Donor management software like Bloomerang, CharityEngine, Lumaverse and so many more are available at a wide variety of price levels, with capabilities that will amaze. There is absolutely no reason to use manually updated spreadsheets to build your own donor database for tracking supporters, their gifts, and their attributes.

Further, online giving solutions like Snowball, Donately, and Salsa Labs can help you collect and process donations from any number of supporters with ease.

Train Your Team in Your Fundraising Strategy

Training your nonprofit team in your fundraising strategy is an important part of the fundraising process. In doing so, you’ll boost your staff and volunteers’ confidence in you by communicating your plan effectively. Then, each member will care about your mission, see their own role in your success, and work to see it succeed.

Sharing your strategy shows every member of your team–from the CEO and the board of directors to the marketing interns–that fundraising is a priority within your organization. A plan means that you’re on a mission on the move, but it’s not likely to be an effective and actionable plan if every player doesn’t understand their part.

Luckily, there are a ton of free and low-cost nonprofit fundraising resources available to organizations like yours. If a member of your team is unsure how to begin the prospect research process, encourage them to take an online course on the topic. If your volunteers are lacking the skills required for successful donor outreach, be sure to equip them with the powerful educational resources they need.


Ready? Now get started!

You can do this… you have to do this! Building a fundraising strategy isn’t optional if you want to be more effective in your fundraising and the pursuit of your overarching cause. Your mission is too important not to plan for, and your staff and volunteers deserve the guidance that a carefully laid out plan will bring. After all, a strategic fundraising plan is a cost-effective, time-efficient way to raise money for your organization. It’s like our mothers told us: well started is well done–so get it done!

For more information on strategic fundraising and overall nonprofit operations, be sure to check out our other educational resources:

Find out how effective nonprofit training can help with building a fundraising strategy.