Wisdom Wednesdays: Raising Major Gifts With Limited Resources, Part Two

by Dawn M.S. Miller, CFRE

Read Part One

A common question I hear time and again: “What is a major gift?”

In a nutshell, a major gift:

  • Is defined by impact on budget or goals for your organization
  • Represents significant donor investment and commitment (“sacrificial”)
  • Is above and beyond what the donor may have typically given in the past
  • Can be given annually, one time or as a specific pledge
  • Is often given for capital needs, a special gifts campaign and/or an endowment fund
  • May be unrestricted or restricted

Donors don’t give major gifts to your organization because you have needs.  They give to bold and visionary opportunities that engage and enable them to be part of a solution.

Miller-Dawn-webLikely, the greatest obstacles to creating, expanding and really growing a successful major gifts program are the lack of a compelling case and the lack of a clear plan of action.  Although nonprofits do many good works, their programs and services may not be packaged in a way that allows staff to easily present tangible opportunities to those individuals capable of, and willing to, support the organization at a significant level.

With your limited financial and personnel resources in mind, address the following questions when planning a major gifts program:

  • What will be done?
    • Develop annual plans for each donor and update regularly
    • Plan the next two to three steps; preferably your next four to five steps, but be reasonable
  • How will it be done?  Include your website, social media, online giving, etc. as integrated components of your planning
  • Where will it be done?
  • When will it be done?
    • Develop timeframes for donor activities
    • Create a cultivation/stewardship calendar and be accountable
    • Stick to your calendar!
  • Who will do it?  Create quantitative goals for the total number of weekly/monthly calls for solicitors, staff members, etc.
  • Which top donors will be included in your written plan?  Or perhaps excluded from your plan?

As you delve into the creation of a major gifts program, it is important to understand why donors will support your organization.  There are seven key reasons:

  1. They believe in your organization’s mission, core values and vision
  2. They believe in your organization’s unique ability to provide programs and services
  3. Their gift will change or save a life
  4. They want to make a difference in the community through your organization
  5. They believe your organization will use the funds wisely, per their intent
  6. They want to join others in a valuable cause
  7. You asked them to make an investment in your organization and the community.

By taking the time and truly understanding what a major gift program is, and the efforts it will take to sustain such a program, you can create a plan that works for you, your staff and your budget.

Go to Part Three

Dawn M.S. Miller, CFRE, is Director of Consulting for Fund Development Services at Zielinski Companies in St. Louis, Mo.  Zielinski is one of our Resource Partners and was invited to post with us through their partnership.  Dawn can be reached at dmiller@zielinskico.com or (800) 489-2150.  Founded in 1957, Zielinski Companies helps nonprofit and religious organizations address their financial, management and planning needs.  The firm has a broad range of consulting service areas, including: Fund Development and Mission Advancement Consulting; Audit, Accounting and Tax Services; Property and Facility Planning; Organizational Management and Planning; Long-term Care, Facility and Staffing Consulting and Cash Management and Credit Card Services. For more information, please visit www.zielinskico.com.

Wisdom Wednesdays: Raising Major Gifts With Limited Resources, Part One

by Dawn M.S. Miller, CFRE

The recording in your head keeps saying, “Major gifts … if only I had the time to create a program to focus on this important segment of donors!”

With all there is to do every day in a development office, how do you find the time to devote to Miller-Dawn-weba major gifts program, especially when you’re faced with limited personnel and limited financial resources?

For many nonprofits, major gift efforts are at a fledgling level or nearly nonexistent.  Most development efforts focus on direct appeals to low-end donors and special events, leaving major gifts — commonly the most productive fund development methodology — virtually untouched.

According to the Pareto Principle, “Twenty percent of individual donors give eighty percent of the total funds raised.  Many development professionals now believe that the numbers have shifted to a 10/90 or higher ratio.  So imagine the impact you could have if you were giving your top donors a proportional amount of time and attention.  It would be time very well spent!

Before beginning a major gifts program, it’s important to determine the readiness of your organization — regardless of the size of the nonprofit or staff.  Ask the following key questions:

  1. Is our organization more than five years old?
  2. What is our reputation in the community?
  3. Do we have a strong case for support?  Why are we worthy of donor support?
  4. Do we have donors who provide significant gifts? (defined per your organization)
  5. Do we have a stream from which to draw major gift prospects? (direct mail, special events, etc.)
  6. Do we have an accurate and reliable donor database?
  7. Do the leadership and staff have connections that will assist us in successfully beginning a major gift program?
  8. Will advisory board members, committee members, volunteers, etc. be willing to participate fully?  In other words: give, network and ask.
  9. Are leadership and staff willing and able to assist in the cultivation and solicitation process?

Once you have answered “yes” to these questions, a variety of steps can be taken to ensure effective and consistent work with major donors.

As a starting point, look at your current donor base and begin to develop your major donor criteria.  Typically, three to five percent (or more) of the names on any donor database have the capacity to make a major gift.  So if you have 5,000 names on your database, you may have 150-250 potential major donors!

Start small.  Perhaps you can begin with a segment of 25-30 top donors over the next three months.  Draft a cultivation plan to ensure you are focusing special attention on these folks.  A goal of cultivating five to 10 prospects per month will move the effort forward at a speedy pace.  Set aside at least two to three hours a week to focus exclusively on major donors, and make a commitment to those weekly hours.

With proper staffing, education, case development and the right structure, you may find that major gifts begin to bring in the great majority of development revenue in the coming years.

Go to Part Two

Dawn M.S. Miller, CFRE, is Director of Consulting for Fund Development Services at Zielinski Companies in St. Louis, Mo.  Zielinski is one of our Resource Partners and was invited to post with us through their partnership.  Dawn can be reached at dmiller@zielinskico.com or (800) 489-2150.  Founded in 1957, Zielinski Companies helps nonprofit and religious organizations address their financial, management and planning needs.  The firm has a broad range of consulting service areas, including: Fund Development and Mission Advancement Consulting; Audit, Accounting and Tax Services; Property and Facility Planning; Organizational Management and Planning; Long-term Care, Facility and Staffing Consulting and Cash Management and Credit Card Services. For more information, please visit www.zielinskico.com.