The 5 Best Strategies for Reeling in More Major Gifts

Your nonprofit depends on the support of those in your community. They show their appreciation for the work that you do through their contributions of both time and money, and your nonprofit is all the better for it. You work hard to ensure that your community trusts your organization to steward their contributions effectively.

All levels of contribution are important to your nonprofit. Some people like to give small amounts every year or every month, and others feel called to give in larger quantities sporadically. These levels can be classified as low-level, mid-level, and major gifts. Major gifts are those that have the potential to fund serious projects for your nonprofit, or make a serious dent in your annual fund.

These major gifts require a different fundraising cycle than lower-level gifts might. Cultivation of major givers is a much longer and personal process than soliciting lower-level gifts. However, these gifts are worth the effort that they require because of the potential future efforts that they support.

Attaining these major gifts may be difficult, but with some smart strategies your nonprofit can increase the success of your major gift program and increase the number of major gifts that your nonprofit is able to secure to further your mission. Our top 5 favorite strategies are to:

  1. Conduct prospect research.
  2. Segment your supporters by interests.
  3. Create supporter societies.
  4. Analyze your major gift cycle.
  5. Offer compromises.

When you combine these best practices with the unique techniques and strategies that your nonprofit has used to build special relationships with your community, your nonprofit staff is bound to find success in the future. If you’re ready to learn more about reeling in major gifts more effectively, let’s get started!


1. Conduct prospect research.


The first step to building an effective major giving cycle is to ensure that you start with valuable cultivation prospects. First, ask yourself what constitutes a major gift for your organization. This number will vary between nonprofits based on your fundraising capacity and size, but it’s a crucial starting point.

Once you know what a major gift is for your organization, it’s time to start building a prospect list. A prospect list is the database of people in your community that could be cultivated towards giving a major gift. Your prospect list for major gifts will look different from your lists of mid-level and low-level gifts.

Your prospect list should include the following people:

  • Members of your contributor community who have the capacity to give a major gift. Check out supporters who respond consistently to your annual fund appeal!
  • Individuals who have given to nonprofits with similar or adjacent missions. Look at other organization’s nonprofit annual reports for major contributors.
  • Individuals who have given to political campaigns with similar causes. Political giving is public knowledge, so take a look at those databases for relevant issues.

These will be the people that your major gift officers should get to know and cultivate for a major gift for your organization. But how do you find out what drives these people are as individuals?

The key lies in prospect research and prospect research software. Prospect research is a technique used by nonprofits all over the world to learn more about the affinity and capacity that an individual may have for giving.

Affinity indicates that someone enjoys philanthropic giving and has a history of charitable behavior. Affinity can be determined by using a prospect research software to look for things such as:

  • Previous charitable giving to political campaigns and nonprofits.
  • A history of volunteering or attending charitable functions.
  • Board membership for a nonprofit organization.

If someone has a history of philanthropic behavior, you know that they are open to contributing to a nonprofit and therefore could contribute to yours. You can also take this a step further by determining what missions or issues drive them to give.

Capacity is the ability of someone to give at a certain level. This can be determined by wealth indicators, which include:

  • Home, boat, or plane ownership.
  • SEC holdings.
  • Salary, if public information.

By analyzing these indicators, you can generally gauge an individual or family’s level of income, and therefore the level that they might be able to give at.

Combining these two factors—affinity and capacity—will help you build an effective prospect list for your upcoming major gift cycle. Instead of spending your time trying to solicit a major gift from someone who has neither capacity nor affinity for your cause, you can be sure to start in a better place by cultivating someone who can give a major gift and may be moved by your cause.

If your prospect list is full of individuals who have proven affinity and capacity, your major gifts team will be able to move forward confidently.


2. Segment your supporters by interests.


In order to more effectively create personal connections between your organization and your potential major givers, your major gift officers should learn as much as they can about your prospects’ interests and then use that information to segment your prospect list.

Step one of this strategy requires only that your major gift officers work hard to cultivate your donors. As they get to know them (and track the prospects’ interests in your major giving CRM), your officers will have a better idea of what drives your prospects into action.

Once you have a solid understanding of your prospects’ main passion as it relates to your nonprofit, it’s time to split your prospect list up.

Segmentation is a strategy used to separate your whole community (or, in this case, your major giving prospect list) into smaller, more manageable groups based on commonalities. In this case, the commonality would be what inspires your prospects’ philanthropic behavior.

Then, once you have your smaller groups, you can create more targeted, more individual cultivation opportunities such as luncheons, events, volunteer opportunities, and more.

What do we mean by “segment by interests”? Let’s go with an example, and then you can apply the principles to your own nonprofit.

Say that you’re a nationally recognized nonprofit with a mission of lessening the suffering caused by cancer. Your mission attracts a lot of different people for a variety of reasons. Use those common reasons to create three common segments:

  • Those passionate about children’s causes.
  • Those passionate about scientific medical research.
  • Those passionate about lessening the burdensome costs of healthcare.

Your nonprofit has some impact on all of these issues, because they fall under the purview of your overarching mission. As you get to know your major gift prospects, separate them into segments based on their internal values.

Those who are most passionate about your children’s causes and efforts should be cultivated with this in mind. Give them tours of children’s hospitals that you work with, introduce them to the children that you’ve helped, or host an informational luncheon where you discuss the numbers and stories of the children involved in your nonprofit’s missions.

Use your nonprofit’s fundraising statistics to determine which of your causes are the most popular, and use those as a starting point for trying to create a connection. Because you target your cultivation strategies to what your prospects are invested in, you increase the chances that you successfully solicit a major gift from them.


3. Create supporter societies.


Supporter societies are a great fundraising strategy for any level of giving, but they’re especially helpful for converting mid-level supporters into major givers.

Supporter societies are a type of membership program for nonprofits where you split your supporter population into levels based on their previous level of giving. For example, a politically-minded nonprofit organization might create a system of donor societies that look like something like this:

  • The Representatives: those who have given between $1,000 and $5,000 in the past two years.
  • The Senators: those who have given between $5,000 and $20,000 in the past two years.
  • The Presidents: those who have given more than $20,000 in the past two years.

Then, the members of each society receive different perks based on the society in which they currently are active. To continue this example, the Representatives would get a room named after them in a new building. The Senators would get an eponymous room and a plaque in the front wall. The Presidents would get a room, a plaque, and photographic portrait in the front hall.

The perks and tiers will vary based on your nonprofit, but the message remains the same. And how does this strategy tie into major giving?

When you notice that someone is approaching the upper region of a middle tier, approach them about giving a major gift. They’ll be more likely to give one if their gift earns them a place in the major givers’ supporter society, especially if the perks include something that provides value to them.


4. Analyze your major gift cycle.


When your nonprofit decides to focus on major giving, it doesn’t always mean that you have to start from scratch. If your organization already has a major giving strategy or program, it may just mean that it’s time for a tune-up in your tactics.

Consider your major giving cycle. Most cycles of fundraising, regardless of giving level, look something like this:

  1. Identification.
  2. Qualification.
  3. Cultivation.
  4. Solicitation.
  5. Stewardship.

These five steps are used as the foundation for most fundraising strategies. Find people who might like to give, research them further to determine if they’re a qualified prospect, build a relationship between them and your organization, make the ask, and then maintain a strong and healthy relationship with them after the gift is made.

In order to improve your major giving cycle, you have to quantify success and use those metrics to determine where your cycle is weakest.

Use your existing major giving and supporter analytics to determine at which step of the process your prospects usually drop out of the process. Are you having a difficult time finding qualified prospects? Or do you get all the way through the cultivation process and then are unable to seal the deal?

Once you analyze where your prospects are dropping off in the process, you can take a hard look at your strategies for that step and fine-tune things until you’re satisfied that you’ve fixed the leak. This isn’t a one-and-done process, however—don’t ignore your data from this fundraising cycle. Keep an eye on your prospect metrics to determine where you’re losing interest.

Improving the drop-off rate in your major giving strategy will increase the number of successful solicitations that your major gift officers are able to make.

For more ideas on strengthening different aspects of your major giving cycle, check out this major giving guide from ClearView CRM team!


5. Offer compromises.


If you find that your prospects are dropping off most severely during the solicitation process, it might be time to take a step back and reconsider your ask. The issue might not be that your major gift officers aren’t delivering an effective presentation—it might be that your prospects just aren’t willing or able to give that type of contribution right this moment, and don’t know that they have any other options.

If you want to increase your rates of successful solicitation, offer your supporters different options. All roads lead to your nonprofit earning a major gift, but they all offer your supporters a different approach.

Some common alternatives or compromises to the traditional major gift include:

  • Breaking up a large gift over a period of months or years.
  • Deciding on a planned gift later instead of a major gift now.
  • Asking for a matching contribution if your team raises a certain amount in other donations.

These options may be more attractive to your prospects, or may make them more comfortable with giving such a large gift in smaller amounts than all at once. Your nonprofit still benefits, and frees up your major gift officers to pursue other opportunities later.

Major gifts are important for the success of any nonprofit, so revitalize your major giving strategy by incorporating these fresh tips into your arsenal.

For more fundraising advice, head over to this capital campaign consultant hiring guide from Averill Fundraising Solutions. A good capital campaign consultant might have even more ideas for reeling in major gifts!

Author Bio

Bob Happy brings nearly 35 years of experience providing expert leadership and direction to clients across the not-for-profit sector to his current role as President of Averill Solutions. Before forming Averill Solutions, Bob served as the Executive Vice President and Chief Operating Officer of the nation’s largest fundraising firm. He has mentored hundreds of professional fundraising practitioners and many have joined him at Averill Fundraising Solutions.



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