This week on Facebook LIVE we discussed common mistakes that a new major gift officer often makes. 

Now we’re following up with ideas to help you get started quickly and see some quick fundraising wins. 

Being new can be daunting, especially when you’re dealing with donors who can make very large gifts. 

Instead of feeling overwhelmed and nervous, we want you to feel excited! Get this: You’re new. And that is your ticket to getting into the hearts and minds of your donors.

Our Advice? 

1. Understand your relationship, as the new major gift officer, with the donor.

Many new major gift officers start with a misunderstanding of this relationship. Remember, the relationship is not between you and the donor, it is between the organization and the donor. 

And this is a good thing!

This means that you start your first day with an already robust relationship. You are just the new face in charge of their “customer service” account. 

Don’t be shy about inserting yourself into the relationship immediately.

2. Introduce yourself as their new contact person.

Need a reason or pretext to reach out for a visit? Introduce yourself!

“Hello Name, I’d like to introduce myself as your new donor relations contact at our organization. You have been a loyal donor over the years and we are so very appreciative of your generosity! 

If you have any questions or concerns – please let me know and I’d be happy to help answer them. Here’s my number xxxxxx.

Also, I’d love to know more about how you came to be a donor to our organization.  Would you be willing to visit a few minutes with me on the phone or zoom, and share your story with me? It would be my deep pleasure to know more about you and your interest in our work.” 

This is just one simple example of how you can use your “newness” to reach out to donors. Make sure you use language your donor is familiar with, for example you could say “I am your new assigned gift officer” instead of “donor relations contact.” 

If you can’t make headway with this type of introduction, then ask someone in your organization to make an introduction for you. Gentle hand-offs can work wonders.

3. Do your research.

Being prepared is always a must. Don’t assume, because you are new, your first donor conversation will just be informal with no chance of a gift. 

Before getting on the phone with your donor, always, always do your research. Be sure to review past giving history and timing, personality, and interests. 

Any information on file (or not on file) is useful for you to brush up on.  Your donor will be pleased that you took the time to understand their history. 

And you never know when a donor will be ready to give. So you must be ready at any time with knowledge of their capacity and interests.

4. Ask skillful questions that lead to an Ask Conversation.

      Remember: “She who asks the questions controls the conversation” 

As a new major gift officer your job is to find out as much as you can about your donor – their philanthropy, their family, their personal values and interests. Since you are new, you can ask all of these questions.

Most of all, you want to know why they are giving to your organization. That’s the path that will allow you to bring up a gift conversation.

“I’d love to know how you came to be a donor to our organization. How has your experience as a donor to our organization been so far?”

Then find out and explore your donor’s interest area:

“What is your favorite aspect of our work? What makes you so interested in this area? Would you like to learn more about it?” 

Then you can gently probe about their interest in helping more with a gift:

“Would you like to know more about the needs we have in this area? You could make a huge impact here if you might consider another gift. Is that something you might like to discuss?”

Remember that deep listening will take you all the way to a gift. Just be alert and ready to move the conversation forward! 

Bottom Line: Being a new major gift officer gives you many advantages. Leverage your newness to gain access to all of your donors – and new gifts too!

You have a wonderful opportunity here. You are qualified, you are passionate, you are smart. Be confident and authentic and your donors will love you! 


As always, it is a pleasure to share our weekly news and insights with you.  We hope you will continue to capitalize on our years of experience by joining us Wednesdays at noon ET on Facebook Live and following us on social media. 

Planning a capital campaign? If you would like to learn about our unique Capital Campaigns by the Numbers approach, let us know. You can also join our INSIDERS community for more fundraising training and content. We would love to have you! 

Hope you have a wonderful weekend.

Here’s #7 in my series of major gift fundraising posts to help you build up and expand your major gift revenue.

I’m sharing some of my best advice to help YOU and your team bring in the major gifts that are out there for your nonprofit.

Today, we’re talking about how to develop authentic relationships with major donors.

You must have friendly relationships with major donors if you want to discuss a significant gift, don’t you?

This is a real toughie for many people – how to connect and be friendly without feeling transactional.

You CAN gain their trust – and huge investments from them. I can show you how.

But first, let me tell you a story about me:

I remember when I started out as a major gift fundraiser at Duke University.  I was dealing with some pretty sophisticated and wealthy people.

But sometimes I simply didn’t know what to do or say when I was with my donors. I felt like I was floundering.

It was driving me crazy, because I was missing fundraising opportunities. And my fundraising goal was hanging over my head. Yikes!

But luckily, I had a friend who literally served as my coach and mentor.

He gave me confidence, and taught me how to “be” when I was with these VIP donors.

Having a coach meant the world to me. It meant the difference between fear and success.

felt so wonderful to have someone I could go to for advice, right when I needed it. It actually helped me sleep at night. :)

And I ended up closing some large gifts from these very people.


Today, here are 5 tips to help you develop close, friendly, easy connections with your major gift prospects.

We are talking about the social side of fundraising. It’s an art. It’s the delicate dance of establishing a trusting bond with a major donor.

1. Above all, understand your donor’s style.

People all have different personalities, motivations and ways of operating. Some people are Type A and others are Type B, for example.

If your donor is a fast-paced business person, she may not want a social relationship. She’s too busy.

Or if your donor is a retiree without family, he may enjoy lots of social time and attention.

Can you guess your donor’s DISC type? (Dominance, Influence, Steadiness and Conscientiousness)

Be ready to adapt your approach to your donor.

2. Be all about the donor.

That means you don’t talk about yourself. You don’t disclose lot of personal details about yourself, even if your donor is sharing personal information.

You always focus on what is on donor’s mind, and not your own agenda. (This is the hard part!)

That means you practice beautiful manners. Courtesy and decorum are always welcome social skills, right? Don’t forget, too, that poise and your appearance really matter.

You are a sympathetic listener, responding to what your donor days.

You practice the art of small talk and polite conversation. These skills put everyone at ease – both you AND your donor.

3. Make it social. Lighten up.

We find that a lot of fundraising happens in quasi-social situations.

You may be at a gathering or even a coffee shop, and you’ll be able to “touch” your donor lightly to grow their interest.

You want to be cordial, interesting, and generous of spirit. Never, ever heavy-handed or pushy!

You need to know when to be business-like. Your donor will clearly indicate that they are ready for a business discussion.

Avoid social calamities with your donors by following their lead on conversation topics, and considering their own likes and dislikes when you are with them.

4. Build trust by doing what you say you will do.

Nothing will squelch a productive relationship with major donors faster than losing trust.

Your donor will learn quickly whether you are ethical, whether you keep confidences, and whether they can expect you to do what you say.

Be careful not to misinterpret your donor’s words. And never pressure them.

It can take a long time to build a productive relationship – so start now!

5. Be an interesting person.

Wow, you may say that is a tall order!

I’ll never forget reading an interview with Naomi Levine, the famous NYC fundraiser. She says you need to be interesting enough for your donor to want to have lunch with you. :)

Ms. Levine recommends that you read widely so that you can carry on interesting conversations.

I remember when I first interviewed at Duke for my very first fundraising job. I casually mentioned to my future boss two items that I had just read in the Sunday New York Times.

I got the job. She told me later that my reading had impressed her.

She somehow felt that I was educated enough to handle myself with big donors.

Bottom Line – How to Build Relationships with Major Donors:

These “soft skills” help build relationships with major donors. They can make or break your donor relationships.

Learning how to build authentic relations with donors is a true art.

If you want help building your major gift fundraising skill set, do join our Major Gifs Intensive program, and we’ll help YOU learn how.

major gift fundraising challenges-infographic

Nonprofits clearly see the potential that major gift fundraising success might offer.

Now, we have over 550 nonprofit leaders sharing their personal challenges in major gift fundraising.

The floodgates have opened here, folks.

Read on for hopes, dreams, frustrations, struggles – that you are probably quite familiar with.

What are the challenges holding us back from major gift fundraising success?

Development directors and staff fundraisers know what is possible but the organizational support is not there.

They are given too much to do. Too much to juggle.

Major gift fundraising has to go on the back burner.

Board members think major gift fundraising is distasteful. They refuse to open doors.

Executive directors set unrealistic goals.

Budgets shortchange investments in major gift fundraising.

Volunteers want to stay focused on events instead of major gifts.

Here are the survey results:

Question 1: What’s your biggest challenge raising major gifts?

not enough major gift prospectsNot Enough Major Gift Prospects 25%

The lack of major gift prospects was the winner by a slim 1% over “not enough time to do it right.”

Many respondents said they were simply were unsure HOW to identify major gift prospects.

How do we find the people with money?

We have no idea how to research to determine who might be a prospect.

How do I recognize a major gift prospect among our current donors and also how do I find someone with money who has never given?

We are uncertain as to who to ask for donations.

This barrier showed up especially in responses from smaller organizations.

It seemed that it wasn’t that there weren’t enough prospects. Instead the issue was we don’t know how to identify them.

not enough timeNot Enough Time To Do It Right 24%

Many fundraisers have too many conflicting demands on their time.

They’re wearing too many hats, often in under-staffed shops.

They’re asked to handle a wide variety of time-consuming tasks.

Here’s where much of the frustration lives, because staffers clearly see that they are spending time on less profitable, less productive tasks, simply because there’s no one else to do them.

I spend too much time setting up processes, entering donations, getting thank you letters out, with little time to move forward to bring us to the next level.

No admin support so I spend all my time on admin tasks instead of major gifts.

I am one person doing major gifts, grants, 2-3 events, material production and editing, marketing and now have been told I need to manage the database too. Hard to get the kind of results expected with that type of workload.

Some staffers clearly saw that it was really a combination of not enough time to invest in prospecting and developing relationships.

Lack of depth in prospects is still a major issue, but it stems from not valuing the time it takes to build that prospect pool.

I wish it was a single issue, but really includes finding prospects and building those relationships, having the time to do that.

unsure or unclearUnsure, unclear of how to approach major donors 20%

There’s much confusion about how to start developing relationships with major donors.

Respondents share that they just don’t know what do to and say, and how to get donors to respond to them.

We don’t know how to approach people with money. What do we do when our donors don’t seem to want to talk to us?

Our donors are not open to meetings. Reaching the donors and securing the ask is troubling.

We need coaching on how to identify and cultivate more major donors – we don’t know where to start.

Again, Executive Directors don’t understand how it works.

Our ED thinks we can just call, get the appointment and ask. Oh! And it is my responsibility.

need structure and supportNeed Structure and Support 18%

Many nonprofits are simply not structured for major gift fundraising.

There’s no one in charge, and no clear responsibility for results.

When major gifts are just something to get to when we have time – the last thing on the list, we can’t expect great results.

Need the staffing structure to make it happen properly. We have the prospects, not enough people to reach out to them all.

Really need help in identifying donors and making a plan.

There is no internal structure and support – I have to do everything myself.

organization doesn't understand or supportOrganization doesn’t understand or support major gift fundraising 13%

Many fundraisers are operating in an organizational culture that does not support major gifts.

There’s literally no structure or support for this type of fundraising.

Or the organization is not willing to invest time and money in developing major projects.

Leadership doesn’t understand exactly what it takes – especially the time commitment required to nurture long term major donor relationships.

Board members find it distasteful to ask potential major donors to consider a gift.

No clear duties are allocated to major gift fundraising. Budgets don’t provide resources for major gift fundraising. Bosses think fundraisers should stay at their desks instead of being out of the office meeting with donors.

Everyone thinks it is someone else’s job.

Our leaders are totally unaware of how fundraising works, especially for major gifts.

We need to change our culture to support major gift fundraising.

We all know what needs to be done, but don’t have the structure and support of the director.

We need the structure and support in the organization to do it.

It is not the organization that doesn’t understand, it is the board.

It’s hard for people to understand that it takes time. I can’t just blurt out an ask on the first visit.

My ED has no idea: Just a “get out there and go to meetings” command.

What Would Help You the Most to Raise Major Gifts?

training in what to do or sayTraining In What To Do and Say 39%

Fundraisers shared a long list of areas where they wanted training or coaching.

It appears that they are quite willing to tackle major gift fundraising but simply don’t know how to do it.

With training in what to do and say, it seems that many fundraisers could be quite successful bringing in major gifts.

I’m unsure of “how to get in the door” when we are just beginning major gift fundraising.

I need help specifically on getting the meeting.

I want training in prospecting.

I need my prospects to agree to meet with me.

How do you tactfully move to the next step with a donor?

How to best convey the “heartstring” need to donors?

I need help getting the courage to make the ask

I have a fear of flubbing up!

organizational supportOrganizational Support 24%

Many fundraisers shared that their board was an impediment.

When board members refuse to support the fundraising process, staff fundraisers are never as successful as they could be.

Board claims not to know anyone who can make major gift as there are no industries in our area. They don’t want to ask individuals who probably could make a major gift.

Board is not engaged in fundraising in the most effective way. They are very hesitant to engage.

I’m having a hard time trying to convince board members that they can help by simply setting up a coffee or lunch where I can meet the donor.

Our board has no interest in helping to open those doors.

The board does not support or understand major gift program.

accountability and coachingAccountability and Coaching 19%

Many respondents shared that they needed a clear plan and structure.

Who is responsive for major gift fundraising? Who does what? Who reports when?

Several said that they thought they could be successful if they had an effective accountability system in place to track and manage the entire process.

First, I need a system/infrastructure to organize the process and keep track of it.

I need help staying organized to make sure I am prioritizing correctly and not missing any good prospects.

I feel like I need a mentor or guide, more so than another class or training.

I need help organizing a pipeline and a tracking system.

Accountability would help with everything – we make time when we have to be accountable.

more time in the dayMore Time in the Day 18%

With overly heavy workloads, it’s no wonder that fundraisers are not successful bringing in major gifts.

I don’t have enough time to do it right because we are always rushing on to the next project that our ED wants us to do.

How do I keep up with the pace as more gets added?

I think I could be successful, but I don’t have the time to do it right.


Nonprofit staffers clearly understand the potential that major gift fundraising offers. But it’s the organization that holds them back.

With training, coaching, teamwork, systems, accountability, and a clear structure, every organization can be successful at major gift fundraising.

Would you like to overcome the challenges keeping you from raising major gifts?  My Major Gifts Coaching can help you raise the big money that is out there for your nonprofit.

  • You’ll start to bring transformational major gifts into your organization, so that you’ll finally have the funding to do your important work.
  • You’ll get an accountability system and infrastructure that will keep major gifts flowing into your nonprofit for years, so you won’t have to start over all the time.
  • You’ll get your major prospects identified, get a priority system, set up cultivation plans and make those asks, so that you’ll actually close generous gifts.
  • You’ll get your entire board and team trained by me in major gift fundraising so that you’ll all share the same language and have the same tools and skills. You won’t be alone any longer.
  • You’ll have me as your major gift coach and mentor for 10 months next year, so that you’ll have my help when you need it.

I’d love to chat with you about whether coaching is right for you! Let’s bring in those major gifts to YOUR organization!

Click here to Find Out More About Major Gift Coaching and Mentoring With Gail 

Q: Should we include a major gift prospect in our email blasts which include asks?

Yes, but you should personalize these appeals, acknowledging your prospect’s relationship with your cause, if at all possible.Hope-this-works-233x300

It’s a mistake to remove your prospect from all your communications – including appeals.

Why? Because it may take months to prep them for a really big ask- and they need those small fundraising and connecting touches all along.

Once, one of our major gift prospects said to me. “Why don’t you all ever ask me for money? It’s weird, and I’d like to give a little something right now!”

That was my lesson learned!

Q: Should the Executive Director go on major gift cultivation visits with me?

Actually I’d like to see you visit with the donor first by yourself. This helps you start developing a personal friendship with him or her.

Once you have established your own relationship with your prospect, then bring your ED in to meet them as a second step in the prospect’s cultivation.

So make it a one- two punch. First you. Then the next step is to meet your ED.

You want step-by-step moves with your prospect.  Introducing her to someone higher up on the ladder, so to speak, is a time-honored strategy.

Q: When someone cheerfully declines your invitation to get involved, how do you best keep them loosely in the loop?

Ok you have several strategies here:

1. See if you can keep snooping and find out the area they are really interested in. If you can discover their hot button, try inviting them to something related to their personal interest.

2. Just keep them on the invitation list or keep circling back with them once every month or two – ever so nicely and cheerfully.

3. Try getting a board member to open the door to them.

4. At some point, you may have to simply “bless and release” them.

Q: With multiple people in your development department, should just one person do major gifts or can you spread that through the department?

You can do it both ways, depending on the reliability and savviness of your staff members.

Are they comfortable in front of major donors? Can they handle themselves and the relationship? Can you count on them?

If so, then each person might be able to handle a few prospect assignments depending on their work load.

If you allocated 5 prospects each out to 5 people then you have 25 prospects being covered, and that works well.

Q: What’s your tool for keeping notes on your major gift donors? Do you have a form or just use a database?

When I’m in a meeting with donors, I’m scribbling on paper. When I get back to the office, I file a formal Call Report in the database system.

BOTH are essential. You MUST have your paper trail and track your work.

Q: How do you get your board to understand the importance of being seen around town? I simply can’t afford to attend all the events on my own.

1. Can you afford one event a month? Sometimes the Chamber’s Business After Hours events are low cost. There are civic events, city festivals, First Fridays, gallery openings – all manner of gatherings going on in your town all the time. Choose some of them.

2. Keep at it with your board.  Remind them that you need to be out and about nurturing relationships and that’s where you “run into” prospects.

3. Explain the importance of having close ties with the people who allocate your city’s resources. There’s the old saying: “If you are not at the table, then you are probably on the menu!”

Q: What if the volunteer (board member) you bring tends to monopolize the conversation with your major gift prospect?

Ohhh boy, this happens all the time. This is because your volunteer doesn’t understand the purpose of the visit. I bet your well-meaning volunteer thinks he or she is supposed to 1. do the talking and 2. make a presentation.


Give them these articles of mine to read:

The Fundraiser’s Kiss of Death: Talking Too Much

How to Get the Most Out of a Major Gift Visit!

Q: Do you take notes in meetings or after?

I personally like to take notes as I go. I think the donor is flattered if you furiously write down their words.

Makes them feel important, AND you want to use the donor’s OWN WORDS when you solicit their gift.

Q: Gail, can you speak to emailing instead of calling to get a meeting?

I would try both. Some donors prefer email and some prefer calling.

Personally it’s MUCH easier to get up with me via email than it is with the phone.

Everybody’s different. Try Facebook, too, with some donors.

Q: Is it okay to take in a small gift on first visit? Candy … ?

Well, personally I am a sucker for dark chocolate. :)

But I am not so sure that a gift works in the first visit – really depends on what it is.

I’d rather bring something that reflects my organization’s work.

Q: How important it is to actively engage major donors in projects? For example to do something in an organization?

It’s extremely important. A recent Bank of America High Net Worth Donor Study found that wealthy donors who volunteered gave much more.

Donors who volunteered over 100 hours last year gave their organizations an average of $78k (compared to an average gift of $39k for those who volunteered less.)

Q: When you talk about long term relationship, are you talking months, years?

I am talking about years and years and years, including even a bequest.

Donors live a long time and they have something called “Lifetime Giving Value.”

Q: How do you work with an ED who thinks he’s a good fundraiser, but does the opposite of everything you just said?

Oh boy, this happens a lot! First of all, I’m sorry!

Some EDs are impossible. When they are a complete boor, you try to keep them away from donors.

Or you can try the psychological approach: get them to come up with their specific objectives (find out this, this and this) for the meeting. Then help your ED think through how best to accomplish the objectives (i.e. asking questions and listening.)

You can try giving them some of my articles and drill into their head that if they do more than 50% of the talking, then they are dead.

Q: One of my donors said to reach out in a specific month to discuss renewing their gift. I reached out via email however have not heard back. How can I attempt to reach out again without seeming too aggressive?

Gosh, this is a toughie. I’d just keep cheerfully circling back – “You wanted me to get back in touch with you so I thought I’d just touch base and see how you were. … ”

Q: Gail, so when we first ask for a meeting, is it better not to say that we will ask them for money and just focus on fundraising strategy / program.

Yes it is much better. You don’t want to ask them in the first meeting. That’s awkward and presumptuous – you don’t know much about their level of interest  or what their hot buttons are.

So the first visit should be to introduce them to your cause and see what they are interested in. And engage them in conversation about various aspects of your work. (What do you think of . .. . What are your impressions of . . . )

Q: How do you end a phone call or meeting when you can tell that the donor is not in a good mood or is uninterested?

Great question! In these two situations, it’s best to cut off the bleeding and simply get out the door.

Invent a reason to leave quickly. (“Oh gosh, I have just gotten a text from xxx and I really need to run!”)

Say nicely, “Thank you so much, I really must go now.” How can they argue with that?

Q: As a man, I don’t think it is appropriate for a hello kiss with a female prospect – thoughts? Open to feedback!

Oh goodness, I agree. Formality is always preferred.

Let your donor make the first step toward the kiss and let’s just hope it is an “air kiss!”


There are many nuances to major donor fundraising – all these questions are typical – and you SHOULD be asking them.

And remember, if you want to raise serious money in major gifts,  you might be interested in my 6- month Step-by-Step Major Gifts Coaching program that starts on April 8.

I’ll be answering even more questions next week – keep them coming, ok?