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Tuesday, January 23, 2018

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When is the right time to start a major gifts program?
Karen Kegg, Bacon Lee & Associates

October, 2012

For many of us, September is the beginning of the annual development cycle.  Boards begin to meet again, special event committees are in full swing for fall events, and donors are back in town!  With all of this positive activity, why not consider leveraging your organization’s excitement by adding a new fundraising tool to your organization’s arsenal? 

Major gift fundraising is quite often thought of as an arduous venture with more than its fair share of complications. Frankly, it can be a little scary, especially if a major gifts program has not been done before in your organization and may be a change that would not be welcomed.  However, think of major gifts as opportunities for your donors to become more deeply committed to your mission and those you serve.  There are many factors to contemplate when deciding to embark on a major gifts program; the most important are the 4 C’s:  consistency, cultivation, confidence, and commitment. 

Consistency:  Start by focusing on gifts to the annual fund (including special events) you have received in the past 3-5 years.  These donors who have been consistent in their gifts and upgraded their gift amounts through the years are excellent prospects for a major gift.  Dependability of donors and their gifts is important when targeting prospects and their ability and willingness to give in a larger capacity.

Cultivation:  As we know, building strong relationships is imperative in developing committed ties to your organization.  Keeping donors apprised of how their donations are at work for your organization and keeping them engaged in the organization’s mission are some of the important aspects of cultivation.  Listening to the donors aspirations for your nonprofit as well as their own philanthropic goals will help you gauge their potential for greater support and involvement.  Without these elements in place, major gifts will not come easily. 

Confidence:   Instilling confidence in your constituent base with tangible evidence of your ability to create positive outcomes with the resources you’ve been given increases the likelihood of larger donations.  Knowing that a great percentage of their gift is going directly to client services is important to donors.   Effectively communicating your organization’s accomplishments to your donors will gain their confidence and create more momentum over time.

Commitment:  Passion for the mission and compassion for those you serve are motivators for donors to stretch their gift beyond their current level of giving.  When thoughtful, careful cultivation and stewardship are given to donors, they become active partners with your nonprofit.  Allowing them to help guide the organization and participate in its successes is an important part of the culture of philanthropy. 

When I worked as a major gift officer, I often studied my organization’s database for consistent annual fund donors.  These donors were the ones that I wanted to get to know.  Once I learned their interests and philanthropic goals, I asked them if they would be interested to committing a multi-year pledge (over 3 to 5 years) at the annual fund level above where they were currently giving.  This created a habit of giving over a definite period of time and asking for a major gift was then a natural progression.

Whether your organization considers a major gift $500, $10,000 or $25,000, all gifts are valuable.  And the donors and their motivations for making those gifts are priceless to nonprofits and the community.  Demonstrating gratitude and genuine appreciation will continue to bring meaningful gifts to your organization and will significantly benefit those you serve.

 Oh, and did I mention courage?  Remember, pushing the envelope and taking risks often reap great rewards. 


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