5 (Very Simple) Steps to Build a Major Gift Program from the Ground Up

Major gifts are the “big win” in fundraising.

We all want these wonderfully large gifts that help fund important programs and solidify your financial base. Major gifts enable transformational growth, and huge expansions of your work. Yes!

The reason I like major gifts as a fundraising strategy is that the return on your investment of time and energy is much, much, much higher than in other kinds of fundraising strategies.

Compare your time and energy to raise a $100k gift from a major door with the effort to net $100k from a large fundraising event. There’s no comparison!

Then why don’t all organizations press forward with a full major gift program?

It’s because the time and effort to develop a major gift effort is more than many organizations can spare.

People tell me they are nervous about approaching major donors. Or they don’t think they have the prospects.

Sometimes the biggest roadblock is simply getting an appointment. Others say they have serious difficulty making the ask.

I feel their pain! I’ve been there too. But major gift fundraising CAN be learned, and it CAN be successful. You really don’t want to miss the Golden Age of Major Gift Fundraising! 

People struggle for all these reasons and more. And smart fundraisers, board members, and CEO’s kept asking me for coaching and help.

That’s why we created the Major Gifts Intensive – to give smart fundraisers the training and structure they need to bring in the big gifts.

You can find all about our  Major Gifts Intensive here.  

If you think this might be a good fit for you and your organization, go ahead and schedule a private strategy session with me and we’ll see if it might work for you.  I’d love to help you! (We are actually already filling up for next year right now!)

5 Very Simple Steps to a Wildly Successful Major Gift Program

Here’s a great — very simple — step-by-step guide to ramp up a systematic major gift program for your organization – one that will bring in game-changing gifts.

Whether you are large or small, you can follow this simple blueprint:

Step One: Develop Your Major Gifts Team

Major gift fundraising is a team sport, not a solo one.

If you are trying to do this all by yourself, you’re not going to be as successful as you want.

You need a small group of trusted insiders – even just a couple of colleagues will do – to help you keep on track and brainstorm donor strategies.

  •  Enlist your CEO or other fundraising colleagues 
  •  Bring in others at your organization for specific jobs – screening lists, strategizing, opening doors, hosting cultivation events, even soliciting (board members can help too)
  •  Set clear goals
  •  Meet with your team often to maintain momentum

The very first step we take in the Major Gifts Intensive is to create a small major gifts team – so it’s a group effort.

Step Two: Create and Maintain a Master List of Major Gift Prospects

Your prospect list is THE fundamental tool for your major gifts program. It tells you the value of your major gift portfolio.

It will help you set priorities. And I like it because you can have a sense of your pipeline – just how much is out there? 

Choose a smaller number of potential donors and work them thoroughly.

Rate them on their interest level in your cause and their financial capacity.

  •  Start with the donors you have
  •  Review your prospect list with other donors (yes, do this!)
  •  Track your Major Prospect List in a spreadsheet format 
  •  Prioritize them and set next steps

The second step we take in the Major Gifts Intensive is to refine and qualify your Prospect List. 

Step Three: Work With Major Donor Prospects One at a Time

Don’t rush the relationship — you are exploring and getting to know your prospects.

Make them close friends of the organization through frequent contact.

Spend the face time needed to develop your relationship.

  •  Create an individualized cultivation plan for each person
  •  Create trust by doing what you say you’ll do
  •  Listen deeply to your donors
  •  Track and measure each step you take

Our Major Gifts Intensive members learn the Art of Discovery Calls with donors.  

Step Four: Create a Personalized Asking Approach for Each Major Donor Prospect

Don’t rush to the ask! You can only ask when the donor is ready.

If you spend careful time cultivating a warm relationship with your donor, then the ask will take care of itself.

You need to show your donor how YOUR opportunity matches your donor’s vision.

  • Ask for permission to ask
  • Ask your donor what she thinks and listen deeply
  • Learn as much as possible about your donor’s interests, values and vision for a better world

In the Intensive, we learn how to approach a donor so that we don’t even have to ask. We have had donors to literally offer six and seven figure gifts as a results of  working with them. (I am NOT kidding!)

Step Five: Make the Ask

The ask is really seamless if you do a super job developing your relationship, and listening to your donor.

It is just a continuation of the process, and your donor will say to you “how can I help?”

  • Don’t low ball your donor – ask for the stretch gift if they are ready
  • Let your donor do 50% of the talking in an ask visit
  • Add urgency: Explain why the donor should give right now
  • Follow up! An ask is not an ask without followup!

Bottom Line: Building a Major Gift Program

Follow these steps and you should be successful!