Time to Check the Health of Your Major Gifts Program

Planning for Major Gifts

The new calendar year arrived once again with the anticipation of growth in our fundraising results and new levels of accomplishment for our organizations. For most development professionals the New Year also begins with zero dollars raised toward our annual goals. The best way to achieve these goals and to fund your organization’s essential purpose is through a vibrant and successful major gifts program.

We’ve put together a few ideas to lead a review of your plan for raising major gifts. Some institutions assign a single person to handle major giving, while others rely on their development officer in tandem with the CEO. Still others retain fundraising counsel to conduct their major gifts program. Whoever manages the process, focusing energy now where the impact is greatest will result in significant improvements by year-end.

The first step will be to develop a table of gifts — a graphic financial tool commonly used during a capital campaign. A carefully drafted standards of giving table will help define:

  • Size and range of major gifts required
  • Quantity of gifts required to reach goal
  • Number of potential prospects to be identified, and
  • Volunteer and staff resources needed to make the requests

A realistic and flexible table of giving standards will also help measure progress throughout the year and identify areas for greater focus. In the end, the table can be used to evaluate efforts and plan for the future.

For better or worse, most development professionals are judged on the basis of short-term financial results. Attracting major gifts, however, is more like a marathon than a sprint. Your objective is to win in the long run. There are no set rules for identifying, cultivating, and soliciting prospective major donors; each individual warrants a personalized strategy with a time frame based on the donor, not the financial needs or convenience of the institution.

Just as in a capital campaign, a major gifts program involves at least a four-step process to achieve success:

  1. Identify major donor prospects with suffcient financial capacity
  2. Cultivate their interest and involve them with your organization
  3. Invite their financial support through a major gift
  4. Steward their continued involvement

A potential donor’s initial inclination to make a major gift is almost always emotional — perhaps a simple desire to do good by helping others. That’s one reason the more ambitious, visionary projects are often more successful than modest or recurring organizational plans. Think about how you can fire up the imagination of prospective donors who want their involvement to have impact, not just to maintain the status quo.

Experienced major donors are also accustomed to making financial decisions based on reason, so they will need a valid rationale to affirm their initial emotional response. Some of the factors that can motivate a prospect to make a major gift include:

  • Strong support for the mission
  • Participation in setting goals for the future
  • Knowledge gained from extensive cultivation
  • Respected peers on the governing board
  • Personal solicitation by an acquaintance of equal stature
  • Evidence that the fundraising effort will succeed
  • Credible financial oversight and plans for the future

For each individual prospect, a moment will come when it is time for action. It is at this highly critical point that a prospective donor’s cultivated interest — and involvement — turns into an investment in his or her aspirations. It is essential that the major gifts program be managed by someone who is able to recognize that moment and mobilize the organization’s resources to secure the donor’s investment.

Whether you are running a capital campaign or raising annual operating funds, major giving has never been more important to fundraising success. Focusing your efforts with these approaches will strengthen your results and give your organization the best chance of finishing ahead in the coming year.

click here for pdf version: FRM64

For more on Major Gifts, Developing Strategies for Success, access Goettler Series Volume 9