How to Sabotage (or Save) Your Major Gifts Program


A solid major gifts program can be every fundraiser’s pot of gold.

Boards, CEOs, and fundraisers all dream of lovely major donors making big gifts that can fund important programs, solidify your financial base and even catapult your organization to new heights.

Major gifts bring in a much, much higher return on our investment of time and energy. (Especially compared to time spent on special events and mailing campaigns.)

Everybody knows that emphasizing your major gifts program can turn your development office into a money-raising machine. 

They know they’d dramatically improve their fundraising results if they just targeted major donors.

But they don’t make it happen. Why?

Killer mistake – what you are missing.

But there’s one killer mistake that may be sabotaging your major gifts program.

This mistake shows up over and over, even when we all know better.

And when this happens, you can pretty much forget any results from major donors.

Here’s the secret. They leave out one absolutely essential component. They don’t have a monthly strategy session.

The Monthly Major Gifts Strategy Session.

What is this? It’s a monthly check-in that makes everybody re-focus, evaluate, re-strategize and set next steps.

It’s a mechanism for keeping the wheels turning.

Here’s what you do at your monthly strategy session:

1. Review your list of top prospects.

Add new people to the list and remove folks who you’ve found out will not want to consider a major gift. It does not have to be a long list. Start with just 20 prospects and love them a lot!

2. Review all the actions or (“moves”) taken in the past month and the results achieved.

It’s a chance to take account of your recent activities and take stock of new opportunities and information that you’ve uncovered in the past month.

3. Evaluate where you stand with your major prospects.

Where are they in their cultivation process? When will they be ready to consider a gift? What has changed? What new information has risen lately? How do we need to proceed with each donor?

4. Create Next Step Strategies for EACH major prospect for the next month.

5.  Assign clear responsibility for the next step with each prospect.

This way every person knows what his or her job is. (“I need to do what by when.”) You assign accountability.

What you achieve with a monthly major gifts strategy session:

  • You create a management mechanism. Your team can track how many prospects are being cultivated, and what the work load looks like.

As a manager, you now have a structure and a format to make sure that  your program is implemented and that staff takes action when they need to.

  • You can keep track of your potential projected contributions. What’s your pipeline look like? 

You’ll know what kind of revenue is possible if all goes well. I like to add up all the prospects’ potential gifts that I have under cultivation and cut it by 2/3.

Then I am willing to commit to a fundraising dollar goal based on that reduced figure.

  • This is a structure that brings key people together to brainstorm strategy.

I find that small groups of smart people are much more creative together on cultivation strategies than I can do by myself. There is power in the team.

  • Your structure emphasizes accountability. You can be sure that before every monthly meeting, your staff (and volunteers if they are involved) will make sure they got done what they said they’d do.

This, above all, is what can ensure results. Otherwise, major gift contacts just might get waylaid to very last on everybody’s to-do list.

How much time?

The monthly Major Gifts strategy session needs about 3 hours a month. It absolutely takes time. And it needs to be top priority.

And it just may be the most important thing you and your staff do all month long.

This is what will give a grounding and a consistency to your major gifts program – two vital “must have’s for any fundraising program.”

Bottom Line: Institutionalize Your Major Gifts Program

By setting up this regular, routine review, you are institutionalizing a major gifts focus for your organization, your board and your volunteers. And you’ll be amazed with the financial results.

I promise you that this can literally be the key to creating a money-raising machine that your wonderful cause so badly needs.

Open Major Gifts Webinar – Building a High Revenue Major Gifts Program: Overcome the Obstacles that are Holding You Back.

I’m presenting a free, open webinar on October 23rd and again on October 25th where I’ll discuss WHY you need to invest in a robust major gift program, how to create solid success, whether you are a large or small organization.  

You can find out more and register here. Check it out!

Comments Please:

Are you holding a month strategy session to review and organize your major gifts initiatives? Share your experience with a comment below: