Your Major Gift Fundraising Questions – Answered!

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.

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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?