4 Things to Keep in Mind When Hosting a Virtual Auction

Thinking of a virtual auction?

Over the past two-or-so years, your nonprofit has probably had its fair share of virtual fundraising events. You may have incorporated virtual peer-to-peer events, galas, or entertainment-based events like trivia nights, concerts, and comedy shows. These virtual events became a key fundraising strategy to survive and thrive during the COVID-19 pandemic.

By now, you (hopefully) have the back-end operations of virtual fundraising events running like a pro. But, while it is important to make sure the event runs smoothly on the back-end—both for the sanity of your team and the event functions’ efficiency—the guest experience should be your number one priority. No one wants to give if they’re not having a good time!

A virtual auction is one type of nonprofit fundraising event that works particularly well online. But, your guests will only enjoy the event if you plan it with their enjoyment front and center from the start. 

With that in mind, this guide will discuss four things to keep in mind when hosting a virtual auction event. 

Cover all of your bases when planning for the event.

When planning your event, there are probably a ton of logistics and overall strategy-related questions you’re considering. How much do you need to raise? How will you market the event to have a massive turnout on the day-of? How will the event factor into your overall fundraising strategy for the year?

All are important questions and far from the only considerations you’ll be working through. In particular, we’d recommend incorporating the following three tasks into your planning process to make sure you’re accounting for the guest experience:

  • Prep staff and volunteers. When you host an in-person event, you’ll probably have a run-through with staff and volunteers before the event begins to make sure everyone knows where they need to be and when they need to be there. Don’t skimp on event training just because you’ve gone virtual! Make sure staff and volunteers know the general rundown of the event, how to navigate your event software, and how to answer any questions that might pop up.
  • Make sure you have the right tech on hand. With an auction, this means your nonprofit auction software. This software will host your event from start to finish, so it should have features such as mobile bidding, streamlined checkout, live video streaming, item promotion, and engagement tools like leaderboards and fundraising thermometers.
  • See what your peers are up to. Now, your nonprofit shouldn’t aim to follow each and every virtual fundraising event trend out there. However, considering your guests are probably attending their fair share of virtual events nowadays, it’s worthwhile to make sure you’re standing out from the crowd. When planning, check out what your peers are pulling off in their virtual events, whether that’s reading nonprofit influencers’ blogs, well-regarded publications, or attending educational webinars. It could give you a few engagement tactics to incorporate into your next event!

Planning the event is only half the battle. Next up is actively taking steps to make the event enjoyable from start to finish.

Make it easy to join and participate in the event.

Have you ever heard the saying “You never get a second chance to make a good first impression”? Well, it’s true! And for your event, it means that you need to impress guests from the very first second.

Begin with making it easy to join the event. The technology you choose will play a huge role in this. Ideally, guests should be able to follow a link that takes them directly to the event. Or, as Handbid’s guide to silent auction software mentions, you could choose a solution with a native mobile app for iPhones and Androids. Then, guests just download the app and search for your event. If the process is more complicated, write out clear, step-by-step instructions and send them to guests in advance.

After guests join the event, it needs to be easy for them to participate in the festivities—i.e. bid on items. This is where mobile bidding comes into play, empowering your guests to view pictures and descriptions of items and place bids. Ideally, guests should be able to receive push notifications or SMS messages that let them know when they’ve been outbid, so they don’t have to keep an eye on items of interest for the entire duration of the event.

Plan for engagement from start to finish.

Let’s be honest—it’s easy to “zone out” when you’re staring at a smartphone or computer screen. We all collectively spend so much time staring at screens that they’ve lost some of their charm!

Unfortunately, this works against your virtual event. Instead of being in a venue and chatting with other guests, event attendees are at home, alone, and may lose interest from time to time. That’s not an indictment of how interested guests are in your cause—it’s just a fact of the virtual realm!

So, it’s up to you to capture and recapture guests throughout the event. Consider sprinkling the following engagement strategies into your event:

  • Incorporate live entertainment. This could mean a band playing live music, a comedian showing off their best bits, or even an inspirational speaker giving a motivational speech.
  • Hire an auctioneer. Auctioneers are known for keeping the energy alive at auction events. Invite one to fast-talk through a few of your top-value items throughout the event.
  • Procure eye-catching items. Handbid’s guide to silent auction items lists 40+ ideas that are sure to grab guests’ attention, such as signed memorabilia, tickets to major sports events, and one-of-a-kind artwork.
  • Encourage a bit of healthy competition. Encourage guests to battle it out with their bids. With your auction software, show a leaderboard (i.e. who is winning which items) or even a list of the top event supporters so far.

Make sure to say “thank you” after the event is complete.

When the event is over, you might be tempted to kick up your boots and call it a day. Don’t relax just yet!

Make sure that you show both event guests and donors that you appreciate their participation and contributions toward your cause.

For those who donated items to your event, send a thank-you note their way. Express your gratitude for their unique donation (mention it by name) and provide a receipt that outlines what they donated to your event. While you shouldn’t (and can’t reliably) advise donors on whether their donation is tax deductible, this information will give them what they need to speak with their accountant about it.

You might be interested in whether donations are eligible for any corporate philanthropy programs through which employers make matching donations. Because these programs vary widely across different employers, it’s best to share information about these programs with your donors and encourage them to investigate whether their company offers one. This information can be included in your thank-you note!

For event guests, you should also send thank-you notes after the event wraps up. For guests who made particularly large contributions, you could also call them or send handwritten notes. 


We’re now multiple years into the widespread use of virtual events. At this point, your organization is a pro when it comes to planning and running smooth events. But have you perfected the virtual guest experience for your next auction?

With these four tips, you’ll plan and host an event that not only runs smoothly on the back-end, but is enjoyable for guests from start to finish. Good luck!


Jeff Porter headshot

Jeff Porter, Founder & CEO of Handbid, has spent 18 years in the nonprofit industry. In 2004 he founded the Prader-Willi Syndrome Association of Colorado where he still resides as board chair. Jeff learned early on that nonprofits desperately needed better and more affordable fundraising solutions.  Leveraging his software background, he built most of the tools his charities used, and in 2011 he launched Handbid at his own fundraising event.  The goal was to improve the guest experience, reduce administration and increase revenue.  Handbid accomplished all of those goals, effectively doubling revenue in its debut. Nine years later, Handbid’s suite of tools has delighted over a half-million guests, generated millions of bids, and helped thousands of charities raise well over $100 million.

A Guide to Nonprofit Grant Writing Basics

Get Noticed (and funded!) A Guide to Nonprofit Grantwriting Basics

I have a friend who was looking for a new home. If you have been watching the real estate market recently or been personally in the hunt to purchase a home, you know how competitive it has gotten. My friend put bids on eleven houses. Each offer was above asking price, no inspection and a with a pre-approved loan. Each offer was outbid in some way and the exhaustive search continued. He began asking, “What is it going to take to win? What were sellers looking for or expecting when they compared multiple bids and decided which to accept?”

I am happy to report his twelfth time was a charm. My friend is settling on his new home this week and will be moving in soon.

Not unlike the competitive real estate market, finding and securing grant funding for worthy causes can be highly competitive as well. What does it take to identify funding partners, present a compelling case and secure funding? What does it take to compete and win?

nonprofit grantwriting and talking

There is an art and science to successful grantwriting. Nonprofit professionals who invest in learning how to write grants can bring significant financial support to their causes. Creating impact partners for your important work can take you from envisioning a better world to actually seeing the change you are working to create.

Let’s take a look at what grantwriting consists of, how it can help you accomplish your mission and some of the ways to learn to be a competitive and confident grant writing expert.

Nonprofit Grantwriting: Frequently Asked Questions

Write Grants That Get Noticed: 3 Key Steps To Grantwriting For Beginners

Recommended Resources for Becoming a Grantwriting Expert

Nonprofit Grantwriting: Frequently Asked Questions

Q: What is a nonprofit grant?
A: Think about someone who has money to do good work but does not have the expertise, access to clients, staffing or other important resources to accomplish the work. This is the essence of the nonprofit grant.

nonprofit grantwriting on couch

Private foundations, corporations, government agencies and other funding entities establish a way to infuse resources around a desire to create impact. They want to put money into doing good.

Grant funders also establish a process to give their money to partners already doing the work. It is a perfect match made for the good of mankind, or animal-kind, environment-kind, etc. You get the idea. There are funders looking for YOU to partner with. Are you looking for them? Keep reading for ways to get started.

Q: What is nonprofit grantwriting?
A: Nonprofit grant writing is a process of applying for funding from a foundation or other entity through a predetermined application process. Grant writing requires nonprofit organizations to submit written requests for funding. Many grant applications are online but some funders request printed, bound and multi-copied applications.

Some grant opportunities are as informal as developing a one-page project description and budget. Others require a checklist of materials and information and can be quite lengthy. Each grant funder is unique. Check their specific guidelines for timing, requirements and funding priorities to be sure your nonprofit aligns with their funding goals.

Q: Is grant writing difficult?
A: Nonprofit grantwriting is time-consuming and complex but it does not have to be difficult. Most grant funders are asking you, as the nonprofit expert, information you already know or have access to. The work comes in compiling the information in a way that takes the grant funder into the solution you are providing to an issue they care about.

Write what your nonprofit is doing in the world. Write about who you serve and how you are making lives, communities, circumstances better through the work you do. Make a connection between your mission and the philanthropic intent of the grant funder. Also, give yourself a generous timeline for completion.

As you get more familiar with the process, you will likely have content written and materials gathered that will make the process go more quickly. For now, give yourself time!

Q: Can anyone write a grant?
A: Anyone can write a nonprofit grant and many people do. Part of your competitive edge will be to enlist an excellent writer who knows your mission and can put your vision into words that make a complete stranger want to help. As a nonprofit professional, that might be you. It may be a volunteer or a contracted writer. The person behind the pen is not as important as the words, heart and belief that shows up on the application.

Q: What does nonprofit grantwriting consist of?
A: An application should include all the important details of your request including who, what, where, when, why and how. Rarely is there an opportunity to clarify or fill in missing pieces after the application is submitted. Do not leave any holes that might disqualify your application.

Most funders will ask for a realistic budget to accomplish what you say you will do with their money. They will probably ask for background documents and financial statements to make sure you are capable of succeeding. Those are documents you have on-hand already or can develop within a short amount of time.

Test your application on someone who knows your program well. Also, test it on someone who knows nothing about your organization or program. If there are unanswered questions or missing details, this is a good way to find them before you submit to the grant funder.

Q: How do I start nonprofit grantwriting?
A: This is a time when excellent writing skills matter. Be clear. Be professional. Avoid lingo or slang that might not translate to someone who is not close to your mission. Assume you are telling a brand-new story.

Whether you are a nonprofit professional in a new role dedicated to grant writing or a nonprofit executive wearing many hats including Grant Writer, there are numerous resources to help you get started in grant writing. Explore these grant writing courses as well as some excellent grant writing tips. I have also listed three key steps below to help you grow your skills and get noticed by funders.

Write Grants That Get Noticed: 3 Key Steps To Grant Writing For Beginners

  1. Learn from History

There is value in repeating what works. You do not always have to reinvent the wheel. Has your nonprofit received significant grant support in the past? If so, what can you learn about the presentation?

nonprofit grantwriting while talking

• What stories were shared that painted a compelling picture of your mission?
• What data was presented that helped the grant funder see the scope of service you provide?
• What impact did former applications promise that inspired a grant funder to invest in your work?

Looking at historical grant funding can give you a jump start on the writing process, giving you a place to begin. Next, find out who, at your nonprofit, is doing the work and get their input.

  1. Learn from the Front Lines

As a grant writer, you are probably not the one on the front lines delivering the services and programs that need funding. Those are the voices you represent when you are making a grant request.

Visit the “front line.” Ask how to make the mission come to life through stories and data. Capture the passion of transformation and write what you feel. Write what you see.

Ask those in the field what it would mean to have the funding they need. Translate that need into words that your potential funders will get behind. With a passionate plea in-hand, the next step is packaging the request to get noticed.

  1. Learn from Experts in the Field

Imagine standing in the green room of Shark Tank with 50 other inventors. Holding a prototype of your ‘big idea’, you are beaming with pride and anxious to share your genius with the sharks. With only five minutes to present, you finish and breathlessly ask for the funding you need to make it a reality. The competition is thick and only a few will get through.

Shark Tank is not for the faint of heart. Neither is nonprofit grantwriting. Know your stuff. Practice your pitch. Tighten up anything that would cause questions. Let the readers know that they are choosing the right cause and the right solution when they fund your nonprofit.

nonprofit writing in chair

Also, I encourage any “writing-phobics” among us to start with a text-to-speech app that allows you to just get your thoughts onto a screen and out of your head. Edit your work later.
Now that you are in it to win it and you have a few key steps to get started, there are some excellent training/educational resources available to learn more about nonprofit grantwriting. Soon you will be ready to help funders see that you are the exact organization they are looking for to accomplish their goals.

Some people hear “writing” and their minds come to a screeching halt. Do not let the expectation of good writing slow you down. You’ve got this! You know your mission. You know the good work that your nonprofit does. Speak from the heart. Write what you know. Imagine what you could accomplish with an investment from a funder and say it!

Here are so more great resources from nonprofit grantwriting experts who have built their careers getting noticed and getting funded.

Is your organization “grant ready?”
Every nonprofit organization I have worked with is anxious for funding. But this free, online resource, hosted by DH Leonard Consulting, helps you determine if you are ready for the ask.

Through various tools DH Leonard helps determine if you are ready to be competitive in the grant seeking process. What does it mean to be grant ready? And what can you do on your own to improve your grant readiness? Check out this training to learn more.

Effective Nonprofit Grantwriting Training Module
Grant writing is a unique type of fundraising and resource development strategy. This training module will provide you and your staff with the basic tools you need to learn how to do grant writing. The PowerPoint, instructor notes, sample agenda and handouts will help you understand the how, when and where to start writing grants. An overview of the various types of case statements and step by step directions for a typical grant are included.

Six Different Types of Nonprofit Grants

In her free, 9-minute YouTube video, expert grant writing and fundraising professional Tiffany Grant distinguished between six types of grant opportunities. Tiffany explains that not all grant funders are alike and not all grant funding opportunities are alike. She examines six different types of grants you will encounter on your grant search including: Program/Project Grants, Operating Grants, Capacity-Building Grants, Capital Grants, Endowment Grants and In-Kind Grants.

nonprofit grantwriting at desk

Conclusion

Imagine locking arms, elbow to elbow, with someone as excited and inspired about your nonprofit as you are. Invite them to walk with you to see the work and to invest in the results and impact of funding the work.

Nonprofit grantwriting can scratch the inner itch of competitiveness and inspire you beyond your wildest imagination. So, what is it going to take to compete and win? Practice, time, expertise, the right ask for the right project. Step up to the challenge and get funded today. Good luck!

Nonprofit Board Training: The Ultimate Guide [& Resources]

A lot has been written about nonprofit boards, their role in your organization, and how to recruit and engage them – almost all to the exclusion of one simple but critical fact:

Your nonprofit board is your nonprofit.

You might say that the board is the “alpha and omega” of a nonprofit. Nonprofits are started by a group of people who form the board. A nonprofit ends its existence with the ascent of the board. In between, the board determines the nonprofit’s mission, hires a nonprofit’s leadership and answers to their community and their state of incorporation for the nonprofit’s performance and more.

Without the board, a nonprofit doesn’t exist, legally, missionally, or programmatically.

In short, being a member of a board doesn’t mean you’re playing around.

Sure, it’s an honor to be on a board. A board member has a “pillar in the community” status no matter what the cause or size of the nonprofit. And with great honor comes great responsibility.
Board members soon find out that it’s more than the benefits. It’s work.

A board member may be (should be) on the board because they love the nonprofit’s mission. Yet while a board member’s work has a great impact on the mission, a board member has little direct contact with the mission. It’s about finding, spending, and accounting for money. It’s about facilities and operations. It’s about promoting the nonprofit’s brand and creating relationships that can lead to mission fulfillment.

And any board member quickly finds out that they can’t know everything about everything their nonprofit does and their role to facilitate it. That’s why nonprofit board training is so important. Here’s what we’ll cover in this guide:

What is the role of a nonprofit board?

On a day-to-day basis, the nonprofit board member’s role is policymaking – seeing the big picture and serving as the organization’s fiduciary. In other words, you and your fellow board members have a responsibility to see that the nonprofit is run in a legal and financially suitable manner.

While you can do programmatic functions, especially as a “working board” member, you’re really taking on the role of a “regular volunteer” (albeit a very dedicated regular volunteer). In this capacity, you’re not functioning in your role as a board member, although others may think that you are.

So, how does your big picture function work?

It starts with a committee assignment. Every board member should serve on a committee tasked with overseeing a specific aspect of the nonprofit. Your nonprofit’s committees might include the executive committee, finance or budgets, programs, fundraising, marketing, or what’s arguably the most important committee: governance and board evaluation.

It’s in the committees that the real work of the board is done. You’re there to monitor, evaluate, and support the staff and volunteers who carry out the everyday tasks in your area. Sometimes that means giving advice. Sometimes that’s hearing from outside experts. Sometimes that’s learning about and approving new ways of getting the job done. Other times it’s simply making sure that the staff and volunteers are doing their jobs in a way that conforms to acceptable practices.

Of course, you need to attend full board meetings. Full board meetings are where you get to see the big picture of your nonprofit and approve or question the functions of the other committees. It is essential that you prepare for your board meetings. That means reading documents or watching videos as they’re provided. Too many times board members “wing it” and show up without the proper background to make informed decisions. Can you get away with it? A lot of times, yes. But it’s a recipe for disaster when too many people do, or you come unprepared to make a critical decision and are called to account for yourself later (like in a lawsuit.) Am I trying to scare you? Yes. As a very wise man said more than a century ago: Be prepared!

There are two more essential functions you’ll face as a nonprofit board member, regardless of your other roles:

  • Marketing. As a board member, you have a responsibility to, at a minimum, chat up your organization to your friends and community and show support by attending events. It may not be obvious how important this is, but people see you as your nonprofit’s ambassador. Major donors, business owners, government leaders, and other key community stakeholders all closely associate your name with your nonprofit. What you do and say speaks volumes.
  • Fundraising. Proper financing of a nonprofit is one of the top responsibilities of any board. To start, that means you MUST make your own gift to your nonprofit. “I give my time, not my money” doesn’t count. It comes down to “If you don’t give, how can you expect others to do the same?” How much should you give? Your nonprofit may have set minimums. Regardless, at least more than you give to any other organization like the one you serve, if not the most you give to any organization. But it doesn’t stop there. It’s essential that you support your nonprofit’s fundraising programs – not necessarily by soliciting, but through activities that either precede or follow a solicitation, such as calling donors to thank them for their gift, providing networking contacts of friends who may have an interest in your mission, or giving a tour of your facilities.

Knowing your role as a board member is essential to the smooth functioning of your nonprofit. If you get involved in too much minutia, you’ll dishearten the staff and volunteers. They may not feel they can push back, even if you’re doing something incorrectly or wasteful, because you’re a board member. On the other hand, you can’t take a hands-off approach. It’s your job to know whether things are running right or not.

What skills are needed on a nonprofit board?

A lot, and none.

There are no specific board member qualifications required by the IRS, states, or any other organization. That’s one of the great things about nonprofits – anyone can serve on a nonprofit board, and everyone does. In that regard, nonprofits show the best in democracy.

However, there is one qualification that all board members need: dedication to the nonprofit’s mission. Being a board member will get tough. You’ll make hard decisions, and there may be days you’ll want to quit. Since it’s not your paycheck job, you might say, “This isn’t worth it.” That’s where dedication comes in. Before you walk away, you need to say to yourself, “Can I look in the eyes of my clients/patients/students and say, ‘I’m outta here’?” Remember, you’re not serving on the board for you. You’re doing it for them.

The good news/bad news about nonprofit boards is that while you should be dedicated to your mission, you don’t need to be an expert in it. This is good because you can take an outsider’s perspective on the work required to meet your mission. It’s bad because you can frustrate the staff you hire, who are experts, with your constant need for education on best practices. Therefore, it is your responsibility to educate yourself as much about your mission as possible. You’ll always be a layperson in the mission, but being a well-educated layperson is a major advantage to you and your nonprofit.

As for specific skills? You’ll need someone who is “accounting adept” (not necessarily a CPA, but who can read profit and loss statements and other financial documents and ask intelligent questions). Having at least one mission expert is very helpful so they can professionally evaluate the programming and help educate fellow board members. Some boards like to have a lawyer with them for their expertise (however, note that nonprofit law is a specialty, so your lawyer board member may not have that expertise). If you have facilities, then having a facility expert helps. You’ll need to look at your functions to see what other expertise can be advantageous.

Here are some others…

  • Decision-making skills. Your board is a decision-making body. You need cooperative decision-making skills. While some people will naturally take the lead on some issues, you can’t afford to have any autocrats. Remember, you’re all responsible for the board’s decisions. Even if you don’t agree, register your concerns and move ahead with what the board as a whole decides.
  • Organizational skills. The biggest challenge for most nonprofit board members is to organize themselves. Board meeting notes, committee reports, accounting statements, and more can stack up very quickly. Plus, there are activities and events you’ll need to attend. It can be a job on top of a job.
  • Fundraising skills. As noted above, fundraising is a core responsibility. The problem is that too many board members equate fundraising with asking. While asking for support is essential, there’s a lot more to fundraising than that. Someone needs to identify possible donors, help connect with them, and show them how your nonprofit fulfills its mission. After the solicitation, there are thank yous to make and re-engagement to focus on with the donor for their next gift. If you want to ask, do – by all means – but don’t think that if you can’t ask you can’t fundraise. To learn more about fundraising, check out this list of 29 nonprofit resources for doing so.
  • Marketing skills. Again, a core function, but an often misunderstood one. Really what we’re talking about are relationship-nurturing skills that are applied to donors, sponsors, volunteers, and more. People want to feel good about working with your mission. Help them with that.
  • Money management skills. You don’t need to be an accountant, but you do need to understand budgets. Even better, learn how to read balance sheets and reports. Even a basic understanding of these documents will go a long way to help you grasp the financial position of your nonprofit – and fulfill a major board function.
  • Teamwork skills. As a board member, you’re responsible, but you’re not the boss. That’s hard to see when every staff member or volunteer seems to differ in opinion. Think of an upside-down triangle. That’s where you and your fellow board members sit in the organizational chart. The staff and volunteers sit in a right-side-up triangle just below yours. The two triangles only intersect at their tips – the board chair at the tip of your down-facing triangle, and the executive director at the tip of the upward-facing triangle. The board chair is the only boss of the executive director. The executive director is the boss of the staff. When you cross between the triangles to interact with the staff or the executive director, you can cause all sorts of confusion and angst, unless everyone knows there is a specific purpose or assignment that leads you over the boundary, like helping the fundraising staff with their work. Even in that circumstance, your job isn’t to be the boss, it’s to help the function. If you have concerns about staff, take them to the board chair, who will take them to the executive director.

What is nonprofit board training?

No two nonprofit boards run alike, so even if you have served before, you’re going to need training on your new board.

But the truth is that too few nonprofits really train their boards, anyhow. That’s more than too bad. That can be a serious liability.

Board training is more than getting to know the new guy over a nice lunch. Board training is an ongoing experience that starts with an orientation to board functionality and mission fulfillment, and eventually digs into your board member’s legal responsibilities, the board functions mentioned above, and continual updates on mission progress.

Nonprofit Board Training: Onboarding in 3 Steps

Solid nonprofit board training starts with “onboarding.”

It’s important that new board members quickly fit into their role as board members and as valued members of the organization. Just like a paycheck job, it starts with a new board member getting to know their way around – around the documents, the programs, and yes, even where the bathrooms are near the meeting room.

Let’s dive deeper by looking at the three main steps of onboarding.

1. Bring new board members up to speed on your mission, history, vision, and values.

Number one is to get the new board member focused on your mission. Remember when we said that dedication to the mission is essential? Now they get to see how the mission is fulfilled. If they’re dedicated, that can be pretty exciting. Even someone who doesn’t expect to work directly with the mission needs to be enthusiastic about it and the importance of their role in supporting it.

Along with seeing what you’re doing today, the new board member needs to see your vision for the future of the mission. As a new insider who can shape that vision, this can be just as exciting as seeing how you carry out your mission today.

We can’t forget about history. Nearly every nonprofit has an exciting origin story with a founder or group of founders who saw a problem and resolved to fix it. Help your new board members see themselves as worthy successors to those founders.

Of course, all of this is within the context of your values. Are your values written down? They should be, and even more important, you should be living them. Don’t expect new board members to “pick up the vibe” of your values. Tell them directly, and hold yourself accountable for following them.

2. Supply new members with important documentation.

Now is the time to share the information that makes your nonprofit tick. Do you have a board binder with all your details, like organizational charts, development plans, and accounting and fundraising reports? Even better, how about an online board portal? They’re an insider now, so board roles and responsibilities/job descriptions, the organization’s bylaws, financial data, current board members’ photos and bios, an events calendar, a list of committees, a list of policies, etc. should all be at their fingertips.

3. Host an orientation meeting.

It’s essential to host an orientation meeting, in person if at all possible. Invite key board members and the executive director. Review current programs and projects, the current strategy and goals for your nonprofit, expectations for board members, and logistical things like when and where board meetings will be and what board members should be doing in between those meetings. This will be a lot of information to take in, so encourage them to take notes, and be available for further clarification. You might even record portions for their review.

Nonprofit Board Training: Ongoing Learning Resources

Beyond onboarding, your nonprofit board should be encouraged to constantly learn and improve. That’s where nonprofit board training materials, like the resources aggregated by Nonprofit.Courses, come in. Let’s look at five of these ongoing learning resources that can benefit your board.

1. Board Governance Best Practices for Nonprofits

Course Description:

Discover the tools and techniques necessary to lay the foundation of a rock-solid board of directors.

Well-governed nonprofits are more likely to obey tax law, safeguard charitable assets, and serve charitable interests than those with poor or lax governance. Directors bear ultimate responsibility for the charity, and they should be aware of their fiduciary duties. This course will address the basic rules and best practices for boards of directors to follow to assist them in fulfilling their duties. These rules draw upon federal tax laws and state nonprofit laws. Navigating the complexities of the laws becomes more manageable once one becomes acquainted with the policies that assist directors with identifying the markers to keep their organization on track. Directors can then fulfill their duties and be guardians to ensure that the charitable interests are properly served.

2. Nonprofit Committee Magic – How to Improve Board Structure

Webinar Description:

Do you wish your organization used committees better? Are there too many or not enough? Need a better system for committees and the board to communicate with each other? This webinar is for YOU!

Get actionable advice from Dr. Joynicole Martinez, founder and Chief Executive Officer of the Alchemist Agency, on helping your committees and board work better together. The following topics will be covered:

  • What an effective committee structure looks like, and who should be in what positions
  • Tips and tricks for conducting efficient committee meetings and reporting on the results
  • Proven ways to increase results between meetings with better committee practices

3. How To Be An Awesome Nonprofit Board Member

Webinar Description:

Fundraising Culture Changer & Master Storyteller Lori L. Jacobwith joined the Bloomerang team to answer some thought-provoking questions about the board experience, and shared templates and tools to help you support the newest or even the savviest board members and make them feel better equipped to serve.

4. How to Deal with Divisive Board Members

Video Lesson Description:

“How to Deal with Divisive Board Members” deals with the inevitable: Someday you’ll recruit one or more dysfunctional board members. They may even try to turn the rest of your board against you. Shalita shares some great tips on how to avoid this from happening and how to deal with these situations should they arise for you!

5. Be a Non-Profit Board That Works

Video Description:

Your non-profit organization can’t afford to have a broken board. Listen to this interview with Professional Registered Parliamentarian Darlene Allen and Roberts Rules Made Simple creator and professional Speaker Susan Leahy. They talk about how to support your non-profit organizations to be more effective. Your meetings are your organization’s best TEAM-building tool. If you can stay mission-focused, you’ll be able to hold more effective and productive meetings.

Wrapping Up

Being on a nonprofit board can be one of life’s joys. You not only do good, but you’re leading the way to doing good.

While some people might say that 80 percent of success is showing up, that’s not true if you want to be an effective nonprofit board member. There’s more. Sure, you need to show up at board meetings – and more than 80 percent. You need to be prepared for those meetings by reading and understanding the materials before you get there. You need to take onboarding, orientation, and ongoing training seriously. You need to become a known advocate for your mission, give to your nonprofit, and encourage others to make their gifts.

But most important is that you need to ask questions – and understand the answers. You need to know what’s going on. The public looks to you as the steward of your mission and its money. The people your nonprofit serves deserve nothing less.

Ready to learn more? Check out the additional resources below!

Capital Campaigns: Resources and Tips for Nonprofits

Train your team in running effective capital campaigns and other fundraising efforts with Nonprofit Courses.Nonprofits raise money for a ton of different purposes. There are programming costs, day-to-day logistics, and other mission-driven needs. But what about those larger projects that require huge investments like purchasing a new building or expanding on an old one? Enter capital campaigns.

A capital campaign is a unique type of fundraising campaign that has the potential to raise a lot of money for your organization—when done right.

At Nonprofit.Courses, we know all about running effective capital campaigns, and we’ve dedicated the time and resources to help others do so as well. In this guide, we’ll discuss the following to help you better train your team before launching a campaign:

Ready to learn more about successful capital campaigns and how to run one for your organization? Let’s dive in!

Frequently Asked Questions About Capital Campaigns

Whether you’re looking to host your first capital campaign or simply optimize your fundraising strategy going forward, you’ll likely have some questions about the process. We’ve compiled a few of the most-asked questions (and answers) concerning capital campaigns and how to get started:

What are capital campaigns?

Strictly speaking, a capital campaign is an organized effort over a specific period of time using one or more fundraising methods to seek money to purchase or build a building, land, or large piece of equipment—what accountants define as “capital.”

While the term is still in use, it’s really not applied in the same way as it was first conceived. It’s more accurate to call what most nonprofits describe as “capital campaigns” as simply “campaigns.” That’s because the people who ran the first capital campaigns quickly discovered a major flaw in the “capital campaign” concept: the double ask.

Let’s say that you’re a regular $10,000 donor to your local hospital’s annual fund. The hospital depends on your gift, and thousands of others, to pay for indigent care for the area’s homeless.

This year, however, the hospital announced a major expansion, including a new institute for indigent medicine with special facilities to address the unique needs of the homeless. You’re approached for a $100,000 capital campaign pledge to be paid over five years. Yes, the $20,000 payment each year is double your current gift, but you see the need and you’re up for it. You say yes.

A month later it’s annual fund time, and your friend, Annual Fund Al asks for your $10,000. Hold on! You just made a commitment to the new institute. Your $20,000 commitment was a stretch. You can’t do an additional $10,000 on top of that! Al and his buddies on the hospital’s development committee are all getting the same answer across the board and come to realize that “double asks” don’t work.

Thus, the problem. A campaign that is purely a capital campaign tends to diminish the available funds to the annual operating support of a nonprofit. This problem is magnified at the lower end of the giving scale where you depend on large numbers of donors to make many small gifts to fund operating expenses.

That’s why today’s campaigns incorporate multiple opportunities for giving that are not specifically “capital” in nature. A typical major campaign solicitation might be a “combined ask,” incorporating a request for annual operating expenses and the capital objective of the effort.

What is a capital campaign plan?

While anyone can solicit a charitable gift at any time for any purpose for your nonprofit, it’s not surprising to find that effective fundraising isn’t random. In fact, by introducing the word “campaign” into the conversation, you imply an organized effort with specific objectives. And of course, the key to this organization is a plan.

A campaign plan is a step above a fundraising plan. Fundraising plans tend to focus on a single method of soliciting gifts—like proposals to foundations, direct mail, peer-to-peer, events, or whatever method you use. For example, creating a plan to run this year’s direct mail program is a fundraising plan.

A campaign plan organizes those methods for a defined period of time to meet one or more revenue, and thus missional, objectives.

For example, say you’re building an endowment for a chemistry scholarship. Your campaign plan might include major gift solicitations to alumni who did well in the chemical industry, proposals to foundations and companies that support chemistry education, and a “Good Chemistry” dinner-dance at Valentine’s Day. Your coordination of all of these is a major part of your plan because you want to be able to announce your final success in meeting your goal at the event.

How do capital campaigns raise money?

Capital campaigns themselves don’t raise money. The methods of fundraising you choose to use as part of a campaign raise the funds. The campaign is just an umbrella label—a marketing tool—to focus your fundraising efforts around one or more mission objectives.

So how do capital campaigns raise money? Any way you want! Direct mail, in-person solicitations, and engaging fundraising events are some of our favorites—and we’ll discuss other ideas in more depth below.

What are capital campaigns used for?

As mentioned above, capital campaigns are used for capital projects. Usually, that’s defined as major equipment, land, or buildings. Some organizations include endowments in the definition of “capital.”

More general “campaigns,” on the other hand, can be used to raise money for anything. You may create an endowment campaign to bolster your nonprofit’s financial stability, or perhaps cast your annual operating fundraiser as an annual campaign. You might even host a “mini-campaign” to seek funds for a specific program objective!

While you can have fundraising programs to meet any of these objectives, a “campaign” implies a coordinated effort among many fundraising methods to reach a common goal.

What types of organizations run capital campaigns?

Capital campaigns tend to be run by nonprofits that have capital needs—those whose mission requires buildings, land, or major equipment.

However, any nonprofit can use campaign concepts and methods to meet the revenue needs of any mission objective, whether they have “capital” needs or not. That means just about any organization can run a campaign—including educational institutions, hospitals, churches, social welfare charities, and more.

What are the phases in a capital campaign?

The basic campaign sequence occurs in three key phases: planning, quiet (also known as silent), and public. Let’s go over each one and how you can get the most out of your efforts:

Planning Phase

The planning phase is not just getting your ideas on paper. It’s about identifying and organizing your missional, and thus financial objectives (typically through developing a strategic plan) and finding out whether you even have the community support to raise money for your cited as your need (often accomplished with a feasibility study).

After you determine what you want and what your community will support, create your campaign plan by setting the goals for what you will fund and for how much, then outline a timeline and fundraising methodology to meet those goals.

Tip: It’s important that your plan has complete board support before moving forward.

Quiet Phase

After all of the planning, it’s no surprise that to your key constituents, your quiet phase isn’t so quiet. Using a “top/down, inside/out” strategy, solicit your biggest potential gifts first, starting with those people who are closest to your organization—including your board and top nonprofit staff leadership.

The objective in the quiet phase is to secure at least 40% (although ideally 60%) of your total campaign funding objective. Why? That’s key to your next step: the public phase.

Public Phase

The public phase is just what the name says—the time when everyone in your constituency and the broader public knows that you’re on the hunt to meet major mission (and, of course, revenue) objectives.

This is where how well you did in the quiet phase makes a big difference. It’s pure psychology. If the public sees that you have already raised so much of the total, the remainder looks much easier to complete.

This is magnified if you have influential names making significant quiet phase gifts.

Let’s face it. Humans are social creatures who respond to hierarchy. If well-known community leaders (whether people, companies, or foundations), are behind a project, the chances of others getting behind the effort greatly increases.

How do I train my capital campaign team?

It’ll be hard to pull off a successful capital campaign if nobody on your team knows what they’re doing or how their tasks play a role in the overall effectiveness of the mission. You don’t want to rely on a guess-and-check method to find out what works, either.

The good news is that capital campaign methodology is very well established. Today’s technology allows for better organization and a broader array of fundraising methods to enhance and accelerate your campaign.

Plus, the availability of low-cost and on-demand training means you can equip your staff and volunteers with the resources they need to do their jobs better. That’s where Nonprofit.Courses comes in! Our wide array of online courses on nonprofit-related topics, like capital campaigns and more, mean you always have the educational resources you need in your back pocket.

Capital Campaign Best Practices

Planning and pulling off a successful capital campaign can be difficult—but it doesn’t have to be impossible. Here are some tried-and-true best practices for hosting profitable capital campaigns and driving results:

1. Work With a Capital Campaign Consultant

Over many years, staff leadership, fundraisers, boards, and volunteers regularly move in and out of an organization. Since most campaigns are multi-year programs, the chances of having the same staff in place from one campaign to the next are slim. And while all staff and board leadership should receive education on campaign basics, a successful campaign can hinge on whether anyone has the experience to pull it off.

That’s why we suggest working with a fundraising consultant: a consultant specifically experienced in capital campaigns can be invaluable to meeting your objectives and better pursuing your mission.

While a typical in-house fundraiser may go through a capital campaign once every five (or more) years, a campaign consultant could easily advise five campaigns in a single year. Plus, they could bring the added benefit of knowing your specific geographic discipline’s market and funders, and provide an objective perspective to your monetary goals.

2. Complete a Feasibility Study Prior to Your Campaign

What is a feasibility study? It’s determining whether you can meet your campaign mission and revenue goals through a systematic sampling of those people with the potential to make significant gifts and/or be influential to others.

Since a campaign’s failure can leave a major stain on the nonprofit’s leadership and cast the viability of the nonprofit’s mission in doubt, testing the waters, with a feasibility study is essential to see if you have a compelling case for a campaign.

Oftentimes organizations opt for a capital campaign consultant to perform a feasibility study because they can offer a veneer of impartiality when approaching potential major funders and influencers. However, others choose to take a more DIY approach that can be handled with proper planning and resources.

3. Build and Train Your Capital Campaign Fundraising Team

Campaigns are great on-the-job professional development opportunities for nonprofit staff and volunteers. They stretch job descriptions and allow for tons of new experiences. However, providing education and training will make everyone’s life much easier by providing an idea of what to expect and how various efforts are supposed to coordinate.

If you can find staff who have campaign experience—all the better. If you can’t (which is often the case) look for staff who can work well in a daily-changing environment and are constantly seeking new challenges.

For volunteers, you’ll need some of the most networked people in your community—whether you define community as a geographic area or a discipline. Your volunteers are essential in identifying potential donors who have a strong interest in your mission with the means to make a difference.

Then, be sure to provide campaign staff and volunteers with the resources they need to begin their outreach!

4. Set a Lofty Yet Reasonable Fundraising Goal

Have you heard the phrase “stretch goals”? You will if you’re involved in a campaign. First, you’ll hear it about your overall campaign goal, but it might also be applied to an individual donor’s gift.

A major purpose of any campaign is to get everyone—donors and community members alike—to expect more from the nonprofit and themselves. This is why campaigns are more than just funding your mission objectives. They’re are about setting new standards for programs and giving and building your nonprofit’s reputation.

For example, campaigns are great ways to change a donor’s “philanthropic setpoint.” It turns out that once a person makes an initial gift, they tend to stay with that amount until something causes a change. Let’s say you graduate college and send $25.00 to your alma mater. Ten years later you still send $25 even though you could afford $100, and that $25 may only be worth $10 in today’s today’s power.

Capital campaigns are a great way to change setpoints through the urgency of the need. Once somebody increases their gift in response to a campaign, you have a much better chance of them continuing at a higher level for their subsequent gifts.

So how do you set your goal? Take a look at previous fundraising data. How much did your organization’s last campaign bring in? How much do you think your donors can give? Answer those questions carefully, and then stretch the numbers a bit and you have your answer.

5. Leverage Strategic Prospect Research

Every charitable gift occurs because of a confluence of three important factors: C, I, and A. By ensuring that your donor prospects have the following characteristics, you increase the likelihood of reaching your campaign goals:

  • Capacity to make the gift that’s requested
  • Interest in your mission
  • Access to the person making the gift

Prospect research, especially for major donors, qualifies a potential giver’s CIA.

While today getting information on someone is easier—and faster—than ever before, the best prospect research starts and ends with personal interaction with the potential funder. Nothing is better than an informal sit-down with a prospect, so you can get to learn what concerns them and excites them, and determine what your nonprofit offers that interest them.

The bottom line? Don’t skimp on (or be afraid of) prospect research. There are ethical standards to follow, as well as a ton of free and paid sources that can help you know whether you’re spending your time with the right people who can make a difference to your cause. After all, you don’t want to waste hours of your team’s time attempting to procure a major gift from someone who simply can’t fulfill the ask!

6. Craft a Powerful Case for Support

Perhaps the most important document you’ll create for your campaign is your case for support. This case encompasses how your mission is essential to your community and why you are the best organization to carry out that mission. It details who you impact, how, and what you need in terms of the program, physical material, and money to be the best.

Very few people but internal staff, board members, and key prospective donors may ever see the internal case. The external case, on the other hand, is a summary document of the internal case, usually dressed up in the form of a brochure, pamphlet, or web page.

A comprehensive campaign may even have different case documents for each constituency or project. These are drawn from the information in the internal case and serve as the fodder for all of your publicity materials.

Capital Campaign Strategies That Work

We mentioned previously that capital campaigns themselves don’t raise money—it’s the strategies within that bring in the funding. Here are a few of our favorite tactics for increasing fundraising revenue through a capital campaign:

1. Multi-Year Pledge Campaigns

The pledge is probably the most used campaign tool available to a nonprofit. In fact, every gift to a nonprofit is a pledge—it’s just that some are paid immediately (such as a check written today that you deposit tonight), while others are paid over longer periods of time.

Pledges that are made and paid in small parts over time—typically once a year for a period of several years—provide a major psychological advantage to your fundraising efforts. It allows the donors to feel like they are doing something significant for your mission.

It’s the same reason that buying on credit allows you to buy that television today that you’d need to otherwise save over time. You get the satisfaction and enjoyment of seeing that TV in your living room today and pay for it each month. A donor gets the satisfaction of being a donor now and paying for that feeling over time.

There’s another reason you want pledges, too, beyond making your donor feel good. Pledges are usually made for more money than a donor would have contributed if they had given one gift at a time over the same period.

For example, someone who makes a $10 gift annually may like the idea of being a $100 donor to your campaign—and will increase their gift to $20 per year to do it. They’ve doubled their gift and get the recognition ten times more. Recognition is cheap—and both they and your mission will win.

2. Major Gift Solicitation

Regardless of how you define a major gift (as described in-depth here in our blog post on major gifts), these significant contributions are the key to a successful campaign.

Think of your campaign like a barrel. The faster you fill the barrel, the faster you can deliver your programs. Next to the barrel, you have bowling balls, bocce balls, and marbles. While you could pour all your marbles into the barrel first, and they’re lighter and easier to pick up than bowling balls, you don’t have near enough to fill your barrel. You have a lot of bocce balls, too, but still not enough to fill the barrel.

To successfully fill your barrel (i.e. complete your campaign) you need to start with the heavy-lifting first—your bowling balls, otherwise known as major gifts. Then you fill in with bocce balls where you can, followed by marbles taking up every gap. You might even have lots of tiny ball bearings to really make it stuffed to overflow!

What does this mean for capital campaigns? Start with the major gifts and work your way downward—and stuff your campaign with the smallest gifts at the end.

Tip: focus on building personal relationships with major funders. They want to feel like an invaluable part of the team (which they are!).

3. Capital Campaign Fundraising Events

There are three kinds of fundraising events popular alongside capital campaigns.

The first kind is your smaller, more personal events that occur to educate major contributors on the objectives of the campaign, and sometimes even to get their formal pledges then and there. Think of a dinner party or reception where the president or board chair makes the case and asks for a commitment. These are typically held even before a formal campaign announcement has been made.

The next kind, ironically, is the campaign kickoff. Why the irony? Because at the “kickoff,” you usually announce that you’ve already raised as much as 60% of the goal. Really, this is the start of the public phase, and the kickoff event aims to raise visibility and enthusiasm for the effort and give a push to the final 40-or-so-percent.

The last type of event is the campaign completion celebration. It’s time to announce that you’ve reached your goal and encourage anyone who hasn’t already to come aboard.

As far as the actual event planning goes, all of these events can be formal or informal, big or small. You can charge an admission fee for tickets or use them to leverage individual, personal asks later. Either way, hosting engaging fundraising events is a great way to drive donations and turn attendees into life-long supporters of your work.

4. Matching Gifts Drives

Everyone loves a bargain, right? Well, welcome to the world of matching gifts.

Match gifts campaigns—usually sub-campaigns targeted to a specific group as part of your larger overall campaign—are great ways to build good-natured enthusiasm for your cause and raise more money because of it. Matching gift efforts help people who are on the fence decide to make their gift and accelerate giving among those who are afraid that they’ll miss the bargain.

Match gift campaigns 0ften start by getting someone to issue a challenge. For example, a major donor might say, “I’ll give you $X if you raise $Z by this date.” The concept will generate excitement among your targeted constituency and lead to increased giving by supporters.

Even better? Many of your donors likely work for companies that have existing corporate matching gift programs in place. This means that when an individual makes a gift to your nonprofit, they can then request a matching gift from their employer. Once the employer confirms the initial gift with your organization, they’ll send in their own donation as well.

5. Online Donation Appeals

More and more, capital campaigns are turning to online appeals for their final, public phase of campaign fundraising. Often known as the “cleanup” phase (not a derisive term—it comes from the cleanup hitter as the best position in a baseball batting lineup) it’s an opportunity to gather everyone’s support, especially those who you couldn’t ask in person.

And that’s important. After the campaign is over, you never want to hear “I wasn’t asked.” Everyone’s gifts are important—and online appeals let you ask just about everyone, easily and efficiently.

6. Capital Campaign Fundraising Letters

A more traditional and sometimes even more lucrative method of campaign cleanup is the campaign fundraising letter. When you consider that your email inbox or social media feed gets dozens, if not hundreds of messages daily, a physical letter in a mailbox could be a much more effective tactic for grabbing your supporters’ attention.

Postal mail also better appeals to certain demographics, and, regardless of the demographic, when combined with online appeals, is proven more effective overall.

For best results, send your cleanup solicitations to everyone, including past campaign donors and non-donors alike. A lot of them will even make a second, bonus gift!


Capital campaigns can make or break your nonprofit’s fundraising, and as a result, its mission. They’re not something to enter in lightly, and should never be used to “kick-start” or otherwise begin a fundraising program where there was none before.

A well-planned campaign will boost your nonprofit in funds, and more important in your ability to carry out your mission. And with both, your successful campaign will lift your nonprofit’s reputation as an organization on the move, and your staff and volunteers with it.

To learn more about strategic fundraising efforts and optimizing your nonprofit training, be sure to check out our other educational resources:

Train your team in running effective capital campaigns and other fundraising efforts with Nonprofit Courses.

Want more? Check these out:

Nonprofit Development: The Complete Guide [With Resources]

Train your team in effective nonprofit development with Nonprofit Courses.A big part of running a nonprofit is ensuring your organization (including its team members, logistical concerns, and mission-focused operations) are fully funded. And how do you do that? Nonprofit development.

At Nonprofit.Courses, we specialize in providing nonprofits with low-cost, on-demand training resources to bring their teams to the next level. Our online courses cover a variety of topics—including nonprofit development. That’s why we’ve put together this handy resource to guide you in the right direction toward effective team-wide training. Specifically, we’ll cover the following: 

Ready to learn more about nonprofit development and how to optimize your team for success? Let’s jump in.

What is Nonprofit Development?

Development is one of those multi-purpose words that require a good deal of context to use appropriately.

For example, when I worked at a religious organization with programs focusing on what many of us would call Christian missionary work, “development” might be shorthand for “economic development.” When I raised money for a different university, I would get promotional mail for construction equipment. Clearly, someone had my job title, Director of Development, confused with a role in the facilities department. At another time of my life, I consulted for a business where they had a Program Development Office.

So yes, context matters—a lot.

In the nonprofit world, especially among nonprofits who actively seek charitable gifts, “development” is often shorthand for fundraising.

But why? Because “development” refers to the act of building relationships that lead to charitable gifts. It’s really referring to “relationship development.”

However, some nonprofits, especially larger institutions like universities and hospitals, will use the word “advancement” instead of development, to reflect the concept of advancing the mission of the organization.

Some may further argue that an Advancement Office has a wider scope than a Development Office. Development offices tend just to focus on raising money, where advancement offices may encompass alumni relations, marketing, and, for universities and private schools, recruiting. But in common usage, the “advancement” label quickly boils down to a shorthand for raising money, just like “development” does.

What is the difference between development and fundraising?

However, it’s also necessary to point out the differences between development and fundraising, although the terms are often used interchangeably. Ideally, development is more than fundraising.

Fundraising speaks to the act of asking for money. To an educated purist, fundraising is short-term—get the gift and go to the next prospect.

For example, think of a person on the street soliciting funds for a charity. That’s fundraising. The ask cycle is quick. They move from identifying you as a prospect to engaging you in a dialogue to cultivating your interest in a matter of seconds. Then they ask. Once done, whether you give or not, they leave and the relationship is broken.

Development, on the other hand, is seen as a more long-term process, even if you never meet the person. If you’re on a direct mail list, you might ask “why do they keep on sending me mail when I haven’t given to their cause?” It’s because they’re working to develop a relationship with you—and that starts with familiarizing their brand, even if it’s just your seeing their envelope in the mail.

While that may not be the most effective strategy, the idea is that whether you are raising money through direct mail or a person-to-person solicitation, neither is effective with a cold ask. Instead, you need to create a commonality of interest—in other words, develop a relationship—for the donor to be responsive to your request.

The power of development is that a well-established relationship pays tremendous dividends over time. As your relationship with the donor grows and they become more attuned to your mission, they will make more, and larger, gifts to your nonprofit. Fundraising doesn’t do that.

Which is why you need development.

Crafting a Nonprofit Development Plan

Now that you have an idea about why development is more effective than fundraising, how do you do it well?

Here’s a secret: nobody in development works alone.

Even if you are the only person in the nonprofit who is focused on charitable giving, if you go it alone, you’ll fail. In short: development is a team sport.

The best example of this comes from David Dunlop and Buck Smith. In the late 1970s, they created a methodology for systematically working with prospects. With so much pressure to raise money and so many people to ask, they were forced to get organized and enlist help. The result was what became known as Moves Management.

The concept is simple: Someone, who they called the “prime” was in charge of the process. That was usually the development officer. They enlisted others, called “secondaries.” Secondaries could be anyone, from your nonprofit’s volunteers to the president and board chair, or even acquaintances of the prospect.

Then they divided the tasks into two categories: foreground tasks—those which were specific to getting the gift from that particular donor, and background tasks—those that generally supported your efforts but were not targeted to the donor.

Let’s say you’re holding the “Best Buddy in Binghamton” award. If your prospect was being honored as a Best Buddy, then that’s a foreground move. If he’s in the audience seeing an example of where he could be next year, that’s a background move.

To sum it up, an intentional combination of foreground and background moves by the primary and secondaries are carried out to lead to a charitable gift solicitation of the prospect. But how, specifically, will you make that happen? Here are a few steps and best practices to follow:

Form a development team

The most important part of creating a development plan, whether it’s to ask for one gift or many, is having the right team. As management guru Jim Collins would remind us, to be successful you need to have the right people on the bus.

In development, that starts with your nonprofit’s leadership: the board chair and executive director. Yes, you need their blessing, but you need much, much more. They have to commit to actively participating. Hiring a development officer does not let them off the hook from asking for charitable gifts. In fact, it should increase the time they spend on it, and make it much more effective.

One of the least mentioned, yet most important jobs of a development officer is the role of “organizer-in-chief.” For example, notice above when discussing Moves Management that we didn’t say that the development officer makes the solicitation.

The most effective solicitations are made by the people who the prospect respects the most. That’s usually not the development professional. It’s more likely to be the top volunteer, the board chair, the top staff member, the executive director. It could also be another board member, or a community leader, or a mutual friend committed to your mission.

Think of a development officer’s job as a theater director. Yes, sometimes they’re in the play, but typically they’re behind the scenes, pulling it all together.

To give your development efforts some gravitas in your organization, you may want to formalize the roles through the creation of a Development Committee. It could be made up of just board members, or board, staff, and volunteers who are actively interested in your charitable gift revenue stream. The role of the committee is to engage in training to help them identify giving prospects and help you take the necessary steps to solicit the gift.

Identify specific organizational goals

And what about goals? Get more money, right? Sure—but it can’t stop there.

For many, especially members of your board, it may be hard to believe that money isn’t the only development goal that counts. This isn’t to suggest that money isn’t in the top two, but another measure can indicate so much more: the number of donors.

The classic development “chicken or egg” question goes like this: would you rather have one gift of a million dollars or a million gifts of one dollar each? Well, it depends, right? That single million-dollar gift may take three years to get, and once in hand, may not come again for another three years, if at all. On the other hand, getting lots of small gifts will cost you more money for solicitation. Yet for small gifts, the good news is that if someone goes away, you still have $999,999 left! Plus, some of those small gifts could grow into big ones over time.

The best answer is “a little of column A and a little of column B.” The total dollar is a measure of short-term health, while the number of donors is a measure of long-term health. Each is important for ensuring a well-funded mission.

Now that we established that you need both, it’s important to focus on when they come in. Creating a simple grid of months at the top, and a number of donors and dollars below each month is a good start.

Take a look at this nonprofit development chart.

Then, create a visual graph. If each month represents the “Y” axis, then let’s have one of three kinds of descriptions down the side:

  • The constituent type could be friends, alumni/patients/clients, board members, volunteers, staff
  • Gift level could be $1 to $99; $100 to $499; $500 to $999; and $1,000 and above
  • Method of asking could be direct mail, personal solicitation, grant proposal, special event, social media, etc.

How do you set your goals within these boxes? Most start with last year’s results and estimate based on your projected activities where each box will change. At a minimum, you should increase each box by the rate of inflation. Keeping a goal the same year-over-year is actually falling behind. In five years, you’ll begin to see the erosion in your spending power.

If you really want to up your game, look at exactly what you’re doing to raise money in a particular category, and don’t be shy about setting a challenging goal.

Create a development schedule

Your schedule of activities goes hand-in-glove with your monthly goals. For example, if each year you hold your gala in February, your monthly number of dollars and donors should reflect that. If you change it to March, don’t keep the February goals the same!

To start, reflect your broad solicitation activities each month, such as direct mail, social media, email, and events.

Then examine the submission requirement schedules of any businesses, foundations, and government agencies that require proposals. Enter their submission dates, then backdate to account for your work on the proposals and project when you’ll hear about the results.

The most difficult solicitation activities to schedule are your major gifts and planned gifts from individual donors. Of course, you can’t exactly plan when someone’s “will matures,” so that their bequest comes your way. It’s not much easier to project when they might sign a life-income agreement (ex: a charitable gift annuity) or even make a significant gift.

You might be disappointed to find out that the gift you expected in May won’t occur until June, but equally as excited when the gift you didn’t think would happen until September fills your hole for May!

The bottom line is that while your development schedule is in no way an exact science, researching and planning beforehand can set your team up for ongoing success.

Check-in and refine strategies

As you can surely tell by now, all of the above—especially goal setting, activity planning, and monitoring your progress—requires strong communications from all parties involved. In other words, there are no “to-da” moments (imagine a drape being pulled off an easel by someone in a top hat) in making, setting, or meeting goals.

Surprises, good and bad, cause unnecessary stress to your board, executive director, and financial management team. The temptation to hide your results to wow your audience or put off any discomfort must be avoided. Report your progress regularly, and to your surprise, you may get some offers to help.

Then, be sure to refine your development strategies as needed to ensure your team is still on track to meet your goals despite any roadblocks or setbacks. 

Nonprofit Development Training

Every day, nonprofit development makes progress as a profession.

Going back to Moves Management, when it was introduced, few people conceived of the need, or the benefits, of a system to solicit major gifts from individuals. Asking for big gifts was learned, and implemented by trial and error. Either you did the right thing or not, which meant you were good at it, or not.

Luckily, however, an accumulation of knowledge means that today’s development officers and volunteers don’t need to rely on guesswork. There are tried and true techniques in just about every method of charitable gift solicitation.

And the new methods? You’ll usually find that the same principles undergird them as the traditional methods. It’s just that technology has changed.

This is great news. A body of knowledge is evolving that everyone can learn based on their nonprofit’s needs and mission, and the learner’s interests and personality.

But how can you equip your nonprofit development team with the resources they need? Here are some great courses and videos to consider:

Creating Sustainable Development Systems for Your Nonprofit

Thinking about the long term is hard—especially with all your problems today! In this introduction to sustainable systems, Tycely Williams, Chief Development Officer at America’s Promise Alliance, takes you through the process of setting up systems including compensation systems and systems for employee feedback.

Creating a long-term future for your nonprofit—maybe even a future without you—is daunting. Get some peace-of-mind in this insightful program.

Create a Development Plan that Works

Does your nonprofit suffer from the Shiny Penny Syndrome—where they jump at every new fundraising idea they see? Does your board or management team expect you to raise unprecedented amounts of money with few resources and no help?

Linda Lysakowski is here to help. She’ll show you how to create a well-written development plan, including who needs to be involved, what a comprehensive development plan should look like, and how to implement and evaluate the plan within your organization.

This powerful course will also cover what the development plan is and is not, and how it helps you stay on track and not get derailed by every shiny object that comes down the road. You will learn why it is critical to involve the right people in the planning and where to get the information you need.

Bonus: This resource also provides learners with free samples and templates to use right away in helping create your plan.

The Storytelling Nonprofit Master Class

Humans learn through stories. No doubt, you need facts and figures to back up your nonprofit’s effectiveness, but to raise the money you need, be sure to tell the story behind those numbers as well. This is a first-of-its-kind online class that shows nonprofit professionals a step-by-step process for telling stories that raise money and awareness.

This course is taught through 10+ hours of instructional video content inside The StoryTelling Nonprofit’s online classroom. In addition to the instructional videos, you’ll also receive worksheets and resources that complement each lesson and help you implement what you’re learning. Finally, you’ll receive access to the discussion forums inside the virtual classroom as well as a private Facebook group for ongoing discussion and support with your storytelling.

Meet Your Mission and Achieve Your Vision Through Good Planning

Is your staff floundering because they’re not sure what their goals and purpose are? Is your board sick of so-called “strategic planning”? Can you hear the groans when you even mention the word? This powerful online course helps you turn their groans into words of praise when they discover how a properly crafted strategic plan can help your organization grow and thrive.

As you progress through this course, you will learn how to create a plan that works—one that helps your organization achieve its mission and fulfill its vision.

You will know what a good strategic planning process involves, who should be included in the planning process, what the final plan should look like, and how often it should be reviewed and updated. You’ll also learn about compiling research data, conducting planning retreats, and establishing measurements so the plan can be easily implemented, evaluated, and updated. You’ll even receive templates and samples you can use right now to create your plan and subsequently measure your progress toward it.

Bring the structure you need to operate most efficiently and efficiently to your team now.

Raise More by Creating Scalable Fundraising Systems for your Nonprofit

Are you always looking for new donors… always worried about when checks will come in… and constantly throwing new fundraising strategies against the wall to see what sticks? If it feels like your nonprofit is stuck on the donor treadmill, this training is for you.

During this webinar, you’ll learn:

  • What a donor fundraising system is, and why it is such a powerful tool for your nonprofit
  • The most important fundraising systems to build for your organization
  • A simple step-by-step process for building sustainable fundraising systems
  • Tips and strategies for successfully implementing systems at your organization

Fundraising systems are the sustainable funding models that turn struggling nonprofits into thriving organizations. A good system makes your fundraising knowable and scalable. It clarifies decision-making, conserves your resources, and allows you to raise more money while using less bandwidth at your organization.


Yes, nonprofit development is about raising money. Some may even call it fundraising. Yet it’s much more than that. Nonprofit development is about creating a solid foundation of support for your organization for years to come.

Financial support is only one manifestation. How about when your expansion is challenged at the local town council. An effective development effort means your supporters are there to tell everyone what great work you do in the community.

What if someone who really needs your services is hesitant to reach out? If they knew someone who supported your mission financially, you have an advocate to encourage them to take advantage of your offerings.

How about if you hold a festival to help the community and raise money for your cause? The donors who show their love with their gifts will be the first ones to bring their family and friends to your event! When people step forward with their monetary support, they say your mission matters louder than anyone can do with words alone. It’s a win-win!

For more information on nonprofit development and day-to-day operations, be sure to check out our other educational resources below:

Train your team in effective nonprofit development with Nonprofit Courses.

Major Gifts Officer Training: 8 Resources for Success

Get started with Nonprofit Courses for your major gifts officer training.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: 

Get started with Nonprofit Courses for your major gifts officer training.

Major Gifts: Build Your Program and Earn More Donations

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

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

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.

Great nonprofit volunteers are worth the cost.

Mutual value is what makes great nonprofit volunteers.

Volunteers are at the core of what nonprofits are.

The origin of the nonprofit sector is tied people voluntarily helping each other as neighbors and as entire communities.

Today, hundreds of countries around the world have codified volunteerism into the definition of a charitable organization.

The ability to enlist willing people in uncompensated labor for the common good is a unique and significant advantage for organizations dedicated to tackling the problems of our day not addressed by government or business.

For nearly all nonprofits, volunteerism starts at the top. While it is possible in most places to pay a nonprofits board, most of the 5 million nonprofit board members in the United States serve voluntarily, and without compensation. In fact, the very word “trustee,” used as an alternate to the title “director” in some nonprofits, speaks to the ethos of nonprofit leadership: to hold in trust for the public good.

See the webinar Nonprofit Volunteers, here.

[BTW: Where did the number of nonprofit board member’s come from? The Independent Sector, a national advocacy group for nonprofits, puts the number of nonprofits in 2019 at 1.6 million . Since nonprofits almost always have a minimum of three board members, then 1.6 million x 3 = 4.8 million. Considering so many have more than three board members, then 5 million is probably a conservative estimate of the number of nonprofit board members.]

To see how nonprofits can use Nonprofit.Courses to support their boards, click here.

While nonprofits are not required to have volunteers, the ability to enlist volunteers is a major, valuable advantage. Volunteers are an extremely valuable tool in bringing your mission to as many people as possible. Even if volunteers cannot be used for direct service delivery, such as when licensed professionals are required by law, volunteers can serve vital support roles in administrative tasks, maintenance duties and most importantly, revenue generation.

See Nonprofit.Courses videos, podcasts and document resources on volunteer management and training, here.

Volunteers bring so much more than meets the eye. The professional experience volunteers bring is often much more than a typical organization of similar size and budget could afford. Then there’s the unquantifiable life experience and enthusiasm for your mission. Volunteers provide a fresh perspective on what you do, bringing new eyes to old problems.

Great nonprofit volunteers come to your organization for a wide variety of reasons.

  1. Are they volunteering because your nonprofit helped them, or they received help from a similar organization?  
  2. Do they need to connect with others? Maybe they’re new to an area and want to build a network of friends with similar interests. Maybe they already have friends who volunteer with your nonprofit?
  3. Are they looking to protect something, or someone they love? While we usually think of “preservation” in environmental terms, your volunteer may feel the need to protect a vulnerable person like a child, a grandparent or a disabled person, or a culture or neighborhood.
  4. Is it expected? Some people volunteer because they’ve been raised in a family where volunteerism is expected. They also might feel that to maintain their social standing in their community, they need to volunteer.
  5. Is in based on faith? Many religions encourage assisting others, in or out of one’s faith community. It’s a powerful driver for volunteerism.

As much as volunteering aids the nonprofit and those it serves by willingly providing no-cost labor, its not a one-way street. That’s why its important to understand your volunteer motivations to help them get the most out of their experience, and thus help them help your mission.

And while a volunteer’s labor is free, nonprofits quickly find out that to maximize their volunteer’s assistance, they need to put in time and money, especially in areas such as…

Use screening for everyone’s protection.

Everyone deserves to be safe, and unfortunately, not everyone who volunteers, as well intended as they may be, is safe for your mission. Many municipalities, states/provinces or other government entities will provide background screening free of charge to nonprofits. Some organizations require the volunteer to pick up the cost. But even if you need to pay from your organization’s budget, consider the consequences if you omit this important step. Not screening can hurt anyone personally injured, and the irreparably damage nonprofit’s reputation.

Great nonprofit volunteers deserve insurance protection.

Screening implies liability, and liability points to insurance.

Many US states try to encourage volunteerism by limiting their liability for a volunteer’s actions while working for a nonprofit. But this may not be enough, depending on the state and the circumstances of services. It’s very important to understand your risks, and provide insurance when necessary. And for board members, this could be especially important, since most don’t want to put their personal future in jeopardy for doing good deeds.

Record keeping will help raise money, and more.

Next on your list should be a good database program. Why? So you can recognize volunteers for their service. So you can contact them easily. So you can show everyone how important volunteers are to your great work. Oh, and money. Database information is great share with funders so they see the community interest in your mission. Also, by using the same database as the fundraisers, you’ll be able to see whether your volunteers are donors, too.

While you can keep the records you want on a spreadsheet or create your own database, there are plenty of off-the-shelf programs for the task. In fact, you may already own the functionality you need that’s embedded into a fundraising gift processing program. Besides basic demographic data, like name, address, contact numbers and etc., consider tracking the volunteer’s hours.

To keep great nonprofit volunteers working, they need supplies.

Of course, you want your volunteers to be as effective as possible in supporting your mission. So, do you give them what they need to do their job? Providing supplies so volunteers can accomplish their assigned tasks is an often-overlooked, essential expense. Even if you expect a volunteer to bring their own supplies, make sure that you account for it so you can give them donation credit at year’s end. Your accounting program, like QuickBooks, is a great place to record the information.

Your volunteers don’t know what to do with those supplies unless you tell them. That brings us to another overlooked expense, staff time.  Providing leadership and guidance is key to getting the most out of your volunteers.

Some volunteers need access.

To do their job effectively, many volunteers, especially board members and fundraisers, need access to documents like financial statements, marketing material, reports on projects progress and more. There’s an entire class of software called “board portals” that can help with this, but simply providing access to a Google Drive folder can often be more than sufficient.

Start right.

Like anything else, to have an effective volunteer program, you need to get them started right. Get the FREE Nonprofit.Courses Volunteer Onboarding Checklist.

Summing it up.

Nonprofits and volunteers can have a mutually beneficial relationship that meets everyone’s goals and needs. Still, like any worthwhile mission focused initiative, it will cost time, and even some money to do it right. That investment could make the difference between effectiveness and frustration.


Don’t forget the most important resources for volunteers: New Course Alerts from Nonprofit.Courses. Each week you’ll see the latest Nonprofit.Courses content, plus events and other activities from our Content Experts. Sign up, now.

Leverage Nonprofit.Courses with Great Nonprofit Startup Training

Nonprofit Startup Training can launch your dream

of a better world, a better community… a better life… for someone… somewhere… some time.

There’s too much of…

There’s not enough of…

We need to save…

We need to stop…

We don’t want that…

Dreams alone don’t solve problems. You need people. You need organization, you need action, and you need money. And if you’re just starting out, you need education.

That’s how Nonprofit.Courses can help.

Nonprofit.Courses is a perfect place to cost effectively pick up information and skills to make your nonprofit successful.

See all of the videos, podcasts, documents and more in the Start Up category.

It starts with Nonprofit Startup Training in the Process

Want to get started right? Check out the #1 Tip to Start a Successful Nonprofit and 3 Ways to Test Your Nonprofit Idea. Then watch Who Owns a Nonprofit , What if people say my nonprofit idea sucks, and Start a Nonprofit to Make Yourself Money. These could be some real eye openers.

Then think about starting your educational path by watching the Nonprofit Start Up Essentials video set 1, “Know your Why.” It’s an important question to ask because starting a successful nonprofit isn’t easy. There’re a lot of details, and if you can’t articulate to yourself and others exactly why you want to start a nonprofit, and why its important, you may not get through the process.

See The ABC’s of FORMING YOUR 501(C)(3)

For example, did you know that in the United States you can’t just apply to the IRS (Internal Revenue Service) to become a 501c3? You need to be incorporated by your state or territory, first.

That’s if its even right for you to become a 501c3. You’ll probably pick a 501c3 in the end (more than 70% of US nonprofits are) but you have 27 different nonprofit type choices, such as a 501c6 business association, or a 501c4 advocacy group. Which is right for you?

Avoid problems by watching this video: Biggest Mistake When Applying for 501c3.

Here’s a way to take it all in, one day at a time. Maybe you start your nonprofit startup training with the free 10-Day Nonprofit Startup Bootcamp

Or maybe you want to take a social enterprise approach? Establishing a nonprofit may not be right. Are you better off being a business and designating your enterprise as a public beneficiary corporation, or a B-Corp.? Check out Top tips for non-profits to generate innovative and feasible social enterprise ideas.

It could be that establishing an independent nonprofit isn’t right for you, at all. Have you heard of fiscal sponsorship? It’s like renting someone else’s nonprofit designation and running your program under their umbrella. See Things You Should Know About Fiscal Sponsorship, including Where To Find One.

Your Board

Of course, starting right can make all the difference in the success of any enterprise. And your board is at the heart of your start.

To get off on the right foot, see the # 1 Mistake Startup Nonprofit Boards Make

Then se the answer to this important question: How many board members for your startup nonprofit?

Then, who will be on your board? Friends and family? Easy to sign up, but not your best choice. Why? They’re doing this for you, not necessarily the cause. They’ll often put your friendship ahead of asking the hard questions. Plus, depending on your circle of friends and family, they may not be qualified to ask any questions at all.

Nonprofit Startup Training in Fundraising

Even if you’re an all-volunteer group, you’ll need money for all sorts of program expenses. What are your options? Fundraising can be a big part, but there are lots of other options. See ten right here.

Startup Funding for Nonprofits

But if you go with traditional fundraising, there’s an important fact that not a lot of people outside fundraising circles know. Businesses and foundations account for less than 30% of all giving to nonprofits. Who gives the rest? Individual people, in gifts big and small. And if you count their closely held businesses, and their bequests, the number from individuals rises even higher. So you need to think seriously about asking individuals, whether in person, by mail or mail, though social media, by holding events or any number of other ways. You’ll find resources for just about every kind of fundraising, here.

Were you thinking of grants? Before you spend a lot of time on looking for foundations, get a behind the scenes look in this series. It’s important to know that foundations and businesses don’t just give money to anyone. To start, your mission needs to match the purpose of the foundation. As a start up, you won’t have a track record of success to point to. How about the experience of the people coming together? It’s also important to know that as a concept, “grantwriting” is a bit of a misnomer. Personal interaction with funders plays a big part in the process.

But if you still decide that grants are the way to go, this is essential information: How Not to Pay a Grant Writer.

Build Trust with Accurate Accounting

You know what builds great trust in a nonprofit? Well, consider that you can have the greatest, most innovative programs, but if your accounting is poor, donors won’t give. An investment in QuickBooks training could save your reputation.

Marketing and Communications

Like a business, a nonprofit can’t exist without customers. Whether you call them clients, patients, students or have your own special word – you need to serve someone. But have you asked yourself, “how will they know we’re here to help?”

This is why marketing and communications is key. How do you plan to connect with your mission recipients, their families and the community at large? You can probably name the delivery tools, like social media, personal networking, advertising and more. But have you decided on what you’re going to say? What’s the message? Is it consistent with how the people you want to reach hear things in their community?

Check out all of the ways you can communicate here.

Let’s get started!

As you can see, getting a nonprofit off the ground won’t be easy. You need a solid start to make it sustainable. While statistics may not be available on this, anecdotally it’s clear that the funnel to creating a nonprofit from a dream to still existing after five years of operation is extremely wide at the top, and dramatically narrow at the bottom.

Millions of people dream of helping others. A good number will say “I should start a nonprofit.” A lot drop out when they see how much work it entails, and even some money, just to get set up. Among those who jump through the hoops, a good number never get traction to offer any meaningful programming. If they do create programs, is the enthusiasm and dedication to the mission still there a year or two later? And just as important, can they find the funding they need to keep going?

This isn’t to discourage you at all. Until all of the world’s problems are solved, we’ll still need nonprofits to solve them – and yours could change a life at exactly the right time, in exactly the right place to make a global impact.

Know that everyone at Nonprofit.Courses want you to get beyond starting, so you can thrive in delivering your mission. Check out our videos, podcasts, documents and more. With each step, come back for more. Get New Course Alerts to see what’s new. And through it all, make it a great, nonprofit day!

Oh, one more thing: Keep up with everything Nonprofit.Courses has to offer by signing up for New Course Alerts.