Photo by Ben White

Investing in your Major Gifts Program

Cultivating serious financial investments by your donors takes time and authentic relationship building. Investing in your development department builds the capacity to invest in the donor.

A few things to keep in mind when setting up your major gifts program involve realistic expectations of how development staff spends their time.  When staff participates in meetings, this takes away from the critical time of spending time getting to know donors.  

It is also important that leadership and fundraising staff have very clearly defined expectations when it comes to deliverables. Leadership should participate in setting goals, providing support, and determining what resources are needed to be successful, but leave the “how” to the professional development staff. 

Your donors have options. They may work with you directly or with a community foundation when it comes to investing major dollars in the community.  Due to recent changes to the tax structure, more donors are taking advantage of vehicles known as DAFs – Donor Advised Funds. 

A donor-advised fund is like a charitable investment account, for the sole purpose of supporting charitable organizations you care about. When you contribute cash, securities, or other assets to a donor-advised fund at a public charity, like Fidelity Charitable, you are generally eligible to take an immediate tax deduction. Then those funds can be invested for tax-free growth and you can recommend grants to virtually any IRS-qualified public charity.

Donors make a gift by transferring assets to a community foundation and then make several gifts from the established fund. Because of the simplicity, many donors will do this instead of setting up a private foundation to disburse funds. Donors can set up these funds with a reasonable amount of money – about $5,000 in many cases. 

However, if donors do not want to spread out the term of disbursing their donation and wish to do so in a lump sum, donor-advised funds are not the best route. Instead, they will opt to determine the recipients of their gifts and if you have a solid major gifts program, your donors who wish to pursue this option are excellent prospects.

These individuals most likely already know a lot about your organization through social media (if you have been actively putting information out on the digital landscape) or possibly even know someone who has used your nonprofit’s services.  The key is providing a concrete reason to give.

Do not make the mistake of thinking that someone who has been identified as wealthy but has yet to donate to your organization is a prime major donor.  If the individual has not yet donated to your organization, they are unlikely to donate a large amount even with the most compelling of cases.  They have to share some belief in your mission to be a good prospect. As always, it is key to have total buy-in for the major gifts program across the organization: leadership and staff.  

Prospecting takes a lot of time to get to know your donors and build a relationship.  CauseVox offers this overview of that cultivation path:

1: Qualify Donor– Ensure they meet prospect criteria

2: Research Donor Interests– Research past and current philanthropic affinities, check donor notes in your CRM for any suggestions on passions.

3: Direct Mail Outreach– Acknowledge your donor’s history with your organization, and tell them you’ll be following up to schedule a meeting

4: Phone Call/Email- Schedule the meeting and confirm the donor’s interests

5: Send Targeted Marketing Materials- Use the donor’s preferred communication methods to send heartwarming stories of impact and any other inspirational donor materials.

6: In-Person Meeting- Meet at the donor’s preferred time and location, such as over coffee, at your office, or in their home. Talk about key clients and community impact.

7: Ask-Present major donors with an offer to support a specific program or initiative, either during step 6 or at a later date.

8: Thank- Thank your new major donor.

9: Follow-up Meeting- A month or so after your major donor gives, follow up on their experience. Ask if there are any other ways they’d like to get involved and give them the name and contact information of a point person in your organization who they can reach.

The bottom line is that fundraising should always be a relationship-based activity, not transactional. As you start – or grow – your major donor program, be sure to be organized and authentic. This will lead to engaging the people to support your mission and who have a vested interest in making an impactful investment in your important work in the world.


Boosting Major Gifts Is A Matter Of Timing

What is a donor-advised fund?

Donor-advised funds sidestep tax constraints

4 Major Donor Cultivation Best Practices In Today’s Connected Economy

The Million Dollar Question: How do I boost year end giving?

The season of year end giving is upon us and with it, both the challenges and opportunities to engage more donors in supporting their favorite charities.

A big chunk of annual giving is in November and December with a significant portion coming in the last three days of the year.  Donors are using digital means, more and more, to make those gifts. 

According to SAGE Intaact, over half of donors use an online access point to make a donation and almost 70% want their tax letter emailed to them, not sent via snail mail.  

It is the time of smart devices with instant access to any nonprofit website – is your digital presence ready?

Most donors are doing online research before they give and websites must be mobile friendly and super easy to navigate.  Offering your powerful statement of purpose on your home page with an urgent call to action are still necessary.  Interconnecting with your various social media channels is also a must.

So how do you convey that messaging?  

Strategies vary depending on your audience. For example, Millennials prefer to watch videos while Generation X most likely wants a relationship with the nonprofit as a volunteer.  Baby Boomers typically are big fans of sustaining support while older donors still like receiving a letter in the mail.
Your best bet in serving your donors with meaningful opportunities is to communicate the urgency of why your service is needed and craft methods that will speak across the digital board to your various demographics of donors.  Transparency demonstrating how those dollars help you do good work will go a long way in establishing trust with donors, too.  

Another thing to keep in mind as your look to next year’s efforts, be sure to start building your email lists to engage with potential donors.  Be sure to personalize those communications in order to build a relationship with those donors who have opted in to support your cause.

Make your impact easy to find and clear to understand.  As donors look to open their digital checkbooks this holiday season, you want to be responsive to them.