Is It Time to Throw Out the Campaign Manual?

Major Gift Strategies for Success

As our country works toward recovery from this severe recession, many development professionals are asking if the rules have changed. Is it time to rethink our approach to fund-raising and donor engagement?

If there is a call for greater efficiency and effectiveness of your development program, we suggest you take a careful look at the operations of your major gift fund-raising activities.

At its most basic, major gift fund-raising is a four-step process: identification, cultivation, solicitation, and stewardship. In spite of the economy, these four steps present the basis for creating the metrics that will result in a successful program.

The key to success is how each step is implemented, as outlined in our featured Goettler Series Volume Nine: Major Gifts–Developing Strategies for Success.

1. Identification: from Suspect to Prospect:

Prospect identification is a crucial aspect of any business. Be sure to first establish a keen appreciation for your current donors. Who is giving and why? How did they come to support your organization, and how were these relationships forged? Be sure to learn from your past success to guide your future work. Finally, explore and prioritize all of the potential capacity within your existing donor pools before moving on to research others.

Effective prospect identification lies in securing information not only on wealth and capacity to give, but also the best pathway to elicit support. In a word: linkage. You may find a linkage to new major donors through your key stakeholders and other volunteers who already support your nonprofit organization.

2. Cultivation: from Linkage to Involvement

In our experience, cultivation of donors is the most neglected step in the process, and often one that can be the most important and rewarding aspect for greater volunteer engagement. How often do we hear that our board members will “do anything except ask for money.” Then why not respond by asking for their assistance in a cultivation event?

The most effective fund-raising programs have a structured approach to cultivation. Working creatively within the organization’s existing schedule of activity and events can reveal opportunities to utilize key volunteers to meet with prospective donors in small and informal gatherings.

3. Solicitation: Converting Interest and Involvement into Investment

At some point, the four W’s of major gift solicitation must be considered–who should ask whom for what amount and when? These seemingly simple questions are often quite challenging to get just right. For most nonprofit organizations, the discussion will include the role of professional development staff vs. the role of the board and other volunteers in the process.

Historically, our view has been that a peer asking a peer to consider a philanthropic investment was the preferred method, with professional staff members limiting their role to support and assistance. In many situations today, these roles have changed dramatically, with the staff expected to lead the effort, and limited roles for the volunteer.

While many successful fund-raising departments have “graduated” to performance metrics and moves management, the dynamics of the solicitation and the results will depend on the relationship between the asker and the donor. Be sure to select the most effective person, whether they are staff, volunteer or a team comprised of both

4. Stewardship: of Gifts and Givers

Stewardship of financial resources is an obligation, and the relationship with the donor should be maintained with equal importance. In many instances, those who make a transformational gift or significant bequest began as modest recurring donors and progressed up the donor pyramid through continued cultivation and involvement.

For more insightful information on this topic, be sure to visit our website and download a complimentary copy of Volume 9 in our Goettler Series, Major Gifts–Developing Strategies for Success.


click here for a pdf version: FRM53