Should You Include Major Donor Prospects in Your Year-End Appeal?


I get so many questions about how to handle major donor prospects at year end.

Here’s the challenge – you’ve developed close, friendly, easy connections with your major gift prospects.

You’re investing tons of time with these special major donor prospects — visiting with them, listening to their ideas, sharing your work with them.

They are getting high-touch, very personalized treatment all the time, and they’re feeling like insiders at your organization.

So what to do at year-end, with the special donors you’ve courted so carefully?

You can’t just dump them into your mass mailing, can you?

No – because a generic appeal letter would feel like a cold splash of water on the warm relationship you’ve painstakingly developed. It’s way too impersonal.

How can you ask them for a smaller annual gift when they’re talking about doing something much, much bigger?

It’s awkward, to say the least.

Many fundraisers simply hold back. They remove their major donor prospects from their year-end appeal campaigns.

Why? Because the fundraiser doesn’t want to damage this special donor relationship with a mass-produced ask. 

They are “saving” the ask for something much bigger and more personal.

As a result, the donor doesn’t get any holiday appeals or communications, because the staff feels they’re not personalized enough.

But look at it from the donor’s side:

Say I am a close friend (and major donor prospect) of your organization. I sponsor events, I serve on committees; I have lunch with staffers; I love your work.

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I “feel” really close to you. 

And it’s the holiday season. Like many people, I’m organizing my year-end donations. 

As I consider what to support this December, I don’t see anything from my favorite organization – yours.

WHAT? That’s weird. I’d certainly like to do something for your organization – above all! 

But there’s no ask. :(

The major gift prospect asked me, “Why don’t you all ever ask me for a gift?” 

I kid you not, this is a real question someone once asked me. And boy did it feel awkward – coming from a capital campaign prospect! 

That’s because I was routinely removing my major donor and campaign prospects from the annual fund appeals.

For instance, they never got regular fundraising communications because we were saving them for something bigger.

So what to do with these special people? 

You’ll probably say “duh” when I share this strategy — because upon reflection it seems so basic.

What you want to do is DEFINITELY send them a year-end ask. 

BUT, it needs to be super personal. 

I mean really, really tailored to each individual donor.

How do to this? Two ways:

  1. You can take your regular appeal letter and modify it slightly (or a lot) for your major donor prospects. 
  2. You can start from scratch with a loving note, acknowledging your donor’s partnership, her deep interest and commitment to your work.

If you are actually discussing a large gift with her, you can say,

“While I know we are discussing a larger level of support for your favorite area, I didn’t want to forget about you during our holiday appeal. We’d love to have you participate in the annual fund (or whatever you call it), if you’d like.” 

If you have developed a warm, close relationship but have not yet broached the subject of a major gift, then you could send a gentle ask like this: 

“It’s been wonderful getting to know you and understanding your deep commitment to our cause. You might know that our annual year-end appeal is focusing on (xxx project). We’d like to invite you to join our leadership annual giving group of committed supporters, if you would like.

Note that both of these asks are gentle and not heavy-handed.

Your major donors need a light touch when it comes to routine smaller gifts.

Here are some other ideas for treating your major donors very, very well over the holiday season.


Do’s and Don’ts for Handling Major Donor Prospects at Year-End:

Do send them a low-key ask.

Do make their ask highly personalized.

Do make their ask feel kind and loving – a reflection of how they feel about you and your cause.

Do make it more like an “invitation” to participate along with everyone else.

Don’t ever, ever send them a generic appeal letter.

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