by Dawn M.S. Miller, CFRE
Inquiring minds always want to know how many prospects a full-time Major Gifts Officer (MGO) can effectively manage. The short answer: between 100-250 prospects at any one time. Of course, this varies depending on a variety of factors — experience, other assigned office duties, the level of donor commitment to the organization, etc.
For many organizations, a full-time MGO is a “pie in the sky” dream. But every development office can begin — in small ways — to develop a strategic approach to building relationships with larger-level donors through identification, cultivation, solicitation and stewardship to motivate ongoing and increased giving.
It can be challenging, with limited personnel and financial resources, to create major gift strategies that are meaningful and that allow staff to build relationships consistently and carefully with this segment of donors. Always ask yourself: “What is manageable with my current workload and budget?”
We know that a donor’s motivation increases as s/he becomes more engaged and involved with an organization or program. Therefore, plan to spend the bulk of your time in the cultivation stage with your top donors and prospects. Cultivation is really the process that builds personal connections that are key to major gift commitments.
Typically, there are three cultivation levels:
- Introduction — Introduces the prospective donor to the organization and its initiatives to create an initial tie with the prospect
- Engagement — Engages the prospective donor in the work of the organization
- Preparation for the “ask” — Involves extensive communication about the prospective donor’s philanthropic capability and willingness to give, informs prospective donor in more detail about the needs of the organization and introduces solicitors
Know that cultivation leading to solicitation is a continuous process. It often takes several contacts, or moves, over a period anywhere from a few months to several years to obtain a major gift from a prospect. In many cases, it takes 24 to 30 months to successfully cultivate and solicit major gifts.
While you’re building your major gift program and cultivating your donors, consider the following tips:
- Pay attention to your current donors, not just “new” money and potential prospects. Keep an eye on your donor attrition rate from year to year
- Treat your donors as partners, not as sources of cash. Donors are not ATMs
- Create strong relationships with the program/service folks at the nonprofit to strengthen your “selling ability” of the organization
- Work to truly understand your donor’s passion and motivation for supporting your nonprofit
- Keep your donors up to date on the programs or services they are supporting. This can be easily done through briefing letters, phone calls and ongoing communication
As a development professional, your role is to help donors visualize — and realize — the various roles they may play in order to change lives and save lives through your organization. With dedication and a consistent approach, your major gifts program will blossom over time.
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 firstname.lastname@example.org 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.