The Care & Feeding of Major Donors

However you define them, major donors mean big business for nonprofits.

This is why major donors can often seem intimidating to many fundraisers, even seasoned development officers with great track records.

But it doesn’t have to be this way! Read on for step-by-step instructions for how to locate, engage, and retain major donors.

Why Major Donors?

Major donors don’t get all the attention for no reason.

According to the classic giving pyramid, a single gift will often constitute around 10% of your total campaign, two gifts will each equal 5%, four donors will each contribute 2.5% and so on and so forth.

This also is roughly in line with the Pareto Principle, which states that 20% of your donors will make 80% of your donations.

Thus, the best course of action for distributing your nonprofit’s precious resources—time, personnel, and income—should follow suit.

The lowest cost of acquisition is to be found by cultivating your existing donors and turning them into big time givers to your organization.

Bottom line: major gift giving is essentially about gradually moving donors up the ladder, no matter where they are currently located on your donation distribution spectrum.

Find Your Big Givers

The first step in any endeavor is research. It may not be the most fun, but it is the most important.

To determine who your major donors are, you first need to find out where your fundraising currently stands. On the bell curve of gift giving, where does the high end start?

For many small nonprofits, a gift of $1,500 is generous. For larger organizations, perhaps $10,000 is considered a major gift. And for enterprise class nonprofits, maybe your major donors don’t get out of bed for less than $1 million.

The point is, the threshold is different for every nonprofit. However, the steps needed to find these major donors remain the same.

Ask yourself the following questions about your target major donors:

  • What are their motivational interests?
  • Where do they live?
  • Which other charitable organizations do they support?
  • Do they give larger or smaller gifts to other orgs?
  • Have they made donations to your org in the past?
  • If not, how long has your org been contacting them and what were the results of each attempt?

Once you have a clear understanding of each of your target major donors, it’s time to move on to planning.

Map Out Your Strategy

Start with your own nonprofit’s fundraising strategy and use it as the basis for your major gift program.

Once you’ve come up with a single figure as the goal of your fundraising campaign—whether it’s a monthly, quarterly, or annual campaign—determine the threshold for “major giving” and what percentage of donors in your existing database fit that profile.

For example, using the giving pyramid model, if your fundraising goal is $5 million, your major gifts might be $250,000 and above.

Evaluate your donor database to locate past donors who fit this description and determine if they would be a good fit for your current campaign.

In addition to fundraising activities themselves, be sure to have systems in place to track pledges, gifts, proposals, and other donor driven data.

It takes time—and money—to woo and win these donors, so a one-size-fits all approach just won’t cut it.

These top-tier philanthropists expect to be individually courted, often in person and at not inconsiderable expense. These major donors are an investment in your organization’s future.

Also, while one time gifts are great and recurring donations are amazing, don’t forget the many other different methods of major giving such as charitable annuities, bequests, non-cash gifts, trusts, and other important ways for major donors to have a major impact.

Go To Work

Put your plan in motion. Hold major gift fundraisers accountable to themselves and your organization by encouraging transparency.

First, determine the number of major donors each fundraiser will be responsible for.

Report often and record everything in your nonprofit CRM database for reporting purposes. How many phone calls? How many letters? How many face-to-face appointments? Were the prospective major donors sent any gifts?

These are the data points you should always be tracking within your CRM in order to get a clear and accurate snapshot of your fundraising.

Next, determine the gift range and fundraising objectives for each prospective donor based on the data you have obtained, either from their past giving history or from discussions, public data, or partner prospecting you have already conducted.

Have your major gift fundraisers reach out to each one of these donors on a one-on-one basis, sincerely and appreciatively.

Review, Rinse, Repeat

Once you’ve collected all the data from your major gift campaign, take a look at the results and compare them side-by-side with the strategic plan you started out with.

Did you meet your overall fundraising goals? Did you add new major donors to your database? Did you reach out to any and all major donors in your existing database who were determined to be an appropriate fit for this campaign?

If you are unable to obtain this data through your integrated CRM’s business intelligence capability, you will also be unable to provide a full accounting of campaign results upon which to build future fundraising success.

If this is the piece of the puzzle that is missing in your organization, evaluate your BI options and develop a strategy for implementation before your next major gift campaign.

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