Nearly everyone at a nonprofit, or at least its leadership, has the same dream… a person of means walks through the door, pulls out a checkbook, and makes a gift so big that the organization never needs to worry about money again.
Major gift officers are in the business of making that dream come true.
While the donation described in the aforementioned scenario is hardly likely, transformational gifts are certainly possible. Significant gifts like these, that make a major difference in your mission, are worth pursuing. That's why a major gifts fundraiser’s job is to identify, cultivate, and steward potential major donors so that when asked, the prospect sees your cause as meeting their goals—and writes the check to make it all happen.
So how exactly do you get this done? Sure, asking is a major component of the strategy, and not asking is a big reason why major gifts don’t happen. Still, the actual asking is a brief, albeit important part of a proven process. In fact, to prove how brief it is, get out your stopwatch and time how long it takes to say “will you make a gift of [any amount here].” Probably less than three seconds.
So, if asking is so important and so easy, why aren’t major gifts flying in your door?
Because getting major gifts is a process. The good news is that the process is pretty well proven. If you're a major gifts officer or a major gifts officer in training, you just need to learn it. If you learn it and still aren’t getting results—go back and review it. Because the process works.
But understanding the major gifts offer training process is for more than major gifts officers.
Why? Perhaps the best comparison to use is with ice hockey. Every time a player scores a goal, that player gets a “point” on their record. Points add up, and clearly, the more goals you score, the more points you get and the more valuable you are to the team.
But unlike a lot of other sports, hockey recognizes that the player who touches the puck directly before it goes into the goal isn’t the whole story. Let’s say a buddy drives the puck toward the goal with a slapshot. You’re there next to the net, and just tip it with your stick, leaving the goalie way out of position—and you score! You get the point, but your teammate gets a point, too. Which is called an “assist.”
Like in hockey, fundraising is a team sport. The person making the ask isn’t solely responsible for the gift. Your assist is just as valuable as your major gift officer’s goal. So if you know how major gifts work, you can be a major player in making goals—and getting gifts. Just like a hockey player with a lot of assists, your career benefits as well.
How do you learn to score the goals and make the assists in major gift fundraising?
That’s where strategic major gifts officer training resources come in.
As a nonprofit leader, you want your team to be well-equipped to raise money and meet their fundraising goals. When it comes to major gifts officer training, having the right tools in your toolkit is more important than ever.
Our suggestion? Train your team with on-demand, low-cost virtual resources like from Nonprofit.Courses. As an online, open-access platform for nonprofit content, including major gift development, Nonprofit.Courses lets you find exactly what you need from a voice that resonates with you and your nonprofit’s mission.
It's a great resource for anyone interested in the process of soliciting major gifts—whether you’re a full-time major gifts officer, a professional who supports the effort, or a volunteer who loves the cause. And if you're not sure where to start, we've picked out eight favorite resources to inform any fundraising professional about the multi-faceted approach to major gifts development. Let's jump in!
1. Basic Fundraising Concepts for Nearly All Nonprofits
Before you conduct any fundraising activities, it's important to have a solid understanding of the process involved. Regardless of whether you write an email asking for a small donation or sit in front of someone to request a major gift, the basic concepts are the same.
Getting this big picture view from the beginning helps anyone seeking major gifts see fundraising from the donor’s point-of-view. You may be asking for something big that your research says is important to the donor, so why is your donor making a bequest to a cause they only hear about through the mail? Knowing how each component of fundraising works together by effectively grasping the basics can answer this question and more.
While we’re talking about basics, wouldn’t it be great if you, your colleagues, and your volunteers could learn about fundraising without all of the jargon and complications? Wouldn’t you like to see philanthropy from the joy of abundance, rather than a fear of scarcity?
Fundraising consultant Larry Johnson hates it when someone calls fundraising a “necessary evil” that people avoid to the point that asking rarely occurs. To this nonprofit expert, fundraising is a joy—and his goal is to make it your joy, too. That's why he created an effective, proven method of raising significant money for your charity that’s approachable for everyone, and long-lasting in your nonprofit’s culture.
This is huge, especially if you’re just starting out or wouldn't consider major gifts your full-time job, or if fundraising never “took” before in your organization. However, even if you are an experienced professional fundraiser, this major gifts officer training course gives a perspective that you rarely find to volunteers and colleagues alike.
3. Build Donor Relationships that Lead to Major Gifts
Major gift fundraising is built on one foundation: the relationship. The connection between your donor and your cause—the people you serve and the staff, volunteers, and contributors who make it happen—leads to major gifts. But how do you become more than just friends? How do you build a relationship where your donor meets their goal of helping a cause they love with a major gift, and you meet your goal of getting significant support for those you serve?
That’s what Linda Lysakowski’s course, Build Donor Relationships that Lead to Major Gifts is all about. Linda knows that you need to have a genuine relationship with your donor based on mutual trust and interests. As one of the few in the world with the Advanced Certified Fundraising Executive (ACFRE) designation, Lysakowski has the experience you can trust to get the straight scoop on the most important part of major gift fundraising.
4. Become a Prospect Research Connector
Wouldn’t it be great if you could figure out whether someone had the capacity for a major gift, how to connect to them, and whether they are interested in your cause all before you visited them? That’s what prospect research is all about!
Prospect research can go deep into the details of a single person or review a broad list of people for indicators of who you should look at more closely. It’s a great tool to use before and after a connection with your prospect.
Luckily, the Prospect Research Institute’s Research Connector program gives you access to a variety of tools and courses so you can focus your time on the people who can make the greatest impact on your mission.
5. The Storytelling Non-Profit Master Class
What if the classic television show “The Brady Bunch” started with a chart of the children’s names, ages, and parents, along with how many friends they had at school. Would you remember? Would you even care? Probably not.
Instead, the first words are “it's a story…” The show’s producers knew one simple fact: humans learn by storytelling. It's how we retain information.
That's why Vanessa Chase Lockshin focuses so much on storytelling in nonprofit fundraising. She knows, and you’ll learn, how stories can make your case for a major gift much better than dry numbers, charts, or even facts and figures.
It’s not that she’s against numbers. This course just encourages you to bring your numbers, and your donors, alive through the best means possible: attention-grabbing, powerful stories.
6. The Asking Conversation: Exactly What to Say in a Major Gift Solicitation and When to Say It
You've likely heard the objection, “what do I say?” when it comes to practicing and making the fundraising ask. It's also the most frequently asked question when anyone inquires about how to get major gifts.
It would be patronizing to tell you “it's easy,” when for so many people, it's not. Internationally recognized nonprofit expert Marc Pitman knows this, which is why he added “The Asking Conversation: Exactly What to Say in a Major Gift Solicitation and When to Say It,” to his Nonprofit Academy series of webinars.
So relax. Marc has the answers and is eager to share with his audience of fundraising professionals like yourself in this powerful major gifts officer training resource.
7. The Four Decisions: How to Lead Your Donor to Each
Those who benefit from your mission deserve everything you can do for them. So why are you leaving gifts on the table that can make a major difference in their lives?
To start, you need to understand that your donor isn’t just a major gift, and their major gift isn’t the entirety of their philanthropy. You need the whole picture.
In The Four Decisions, fundraising veteran Dan Shephard leads you through four choices that will help you see the whole donor instead of just their major gift. That’s a huge step toward a long-term relationship that will benefit your mission, and your donor, for years to come.
8. Impact Method™, by PivotGround
The Impact Method™ is a system of tools and processes that helps you get an organized strategy, optimize your capacity, and thrive with a process of continual improvement. It gives you the framework and methods to build the context that makes sense for you, your nonprofit, and those you serve.
This is critical in your ability to seek major gifts.
A strategic plan tells you and your donors that you know exactly why you need major gifts. While you could ask someone for any amount of money, the first thing they’ll likely ask is why. A strategic plan puts the answer in the context of your mission.
For example, if you offer after-school programs for children, you could say “we need a basketball court.” The donor might get it since they know your nonprofit works with kids. Yet you’d be much more successful if you said, “Our mission is to help children of our impoverished neighborhood to complete school and find a brighter future. When a child walks home from school, they have a choice: hang out and get in trouble or come to our rec center. We need to give them an incentive to come here so they’ll be in a safe, fun environment, and meet role models who can help them to succeed in life. A basketball court can be a great magnet for these kids and a tool for positive life lessons.”
Just by comparing these two statements, you can surely see the difference and understand the power that is offered in the latter. A strategic plan shows your donors you have direction. It gives them confidence that you have the expertise to carry out your mission—and that their money will be well spent.
Seeking major gifts isn’t easy, but it's not impossible, either. Just a few years ago, most people learned by trial and error, making lots of mistakes and even losing their jobs because of it.
That’s not true today. The eight programs above, and so many more available on Nonprofit.Courses, give you exactly what you need to solicit major gifts for the most important cause in the world: yours.
So, dive in! Define a major gift. Begin training your fundraising team. Start identifying people who love your mission—and have the means to make a transformational difference. Find out who knows them and forge an introduction. Make them insiders by showing them your great work and amazing results. Then make your ask!
If you don’t, you’ll both be disappointed—you for not doing the most for those you serve, and your donor for not fulfilling their dream of impacting a cause that makes a difference to them and the world.
To learn more about effective nonprofit fundraising operations and major gifts officer training, be sure to check out our other educational resources:
- Nonprofit Professional Development: Top Resources and Ideas. Nonprofit professional development has the opportunity to advance not only your own career but also your organization's mission as a whole. Learn more with this guide.
- Building a Fundraising Strategy: Resources and Ideas. Effective fundraising efforts start out with an effective fundraising strategy. Find out how to build one to fund your mission with our powerful nonprofit training resources.
- 21 Free Nonprofit Webinars to Further Your Career Today. These free nonprofit webinars can inform your team on a number of topics including fundraising, grant-writing, and marketing, and major gifts officer training to bring your operations to the next level.