5 Step Plan to Cultivate More Major Donors

Major gifts can provide major opportunities for nonprofit organizations. But the prospect of asking someone to make a substantial gift to your organization may seem daunting. However, inspiring an individual to become a major donor may not be as overwhelming as you think.

At the core of a major gift is a relationship with your donor built on trust and stewardship. An individual isn’t likely to give $10,000 out of the blue, and you wouldn’t ask someone for a gift of that size whom you’d never met. But when you invest the time to build and cultivate the relationship, amazing things can happen.

Major donors have significant benefits for your nonprofit beyond the financial gift. But how do you find a major donor? And how to you get to that big ask?

Step 1: Evaluate

Illustration of profiles of major donors with hand holding magnifying glass
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Before you build relationships with major donors, you need to find them. The best place to start is with your current donor list. Which individuals who regularly give could you ask to give more? Who on your list fits your profile of a major donor?

The most fruitful place to start is to leverage the relationships your team or board members already have. If a potential donor isn’t familiar with your organization, an introduction from a friend or colleague will go a long way towards them building trust in your nonprofit’s mission. Another tip, especially for smaller, community-based organizations, is to identify local events where you can speak about your organization to an audience who has an investment in your cause but may not know you yet. Revisit, and ask your board to revisit existing connections annually.

Part of your evaluation should involve identifying what a major donor means for your organization. Include factors such as giving history, involvement with your organization, and the donors interests and hobbies. Real estate ownership, career affiliation, and political giving history are other factors that indicate a prospect’s capacity to give.

Do extensive, deeper research on those you plan to cultivate as major donors. Making a large gift to an organization requires a level of personal connection. The more you know about these prospects, the deeper and more personal your relationship with them will be, and the more likely they’ll give at higher levels.

Look to identify prospective donors for planned giving. Some donors may be ideal candidates for a major gift, but don’t have the resources to make a sizable gift right now. Having a planned giving program you can discuss with those individuals helps to keep them actively involved in your organization and shows them the impact they can still have.

Step 2: Plan

three women meeting in office setting

Now that you’ve identified a group of potential major donors, how will you cultivate those relationships? A well thought out plan will help you to make these relationships as rewarding as possible for all parties.

You may find it helpful to designate an experienced team member as a Major Gifts Officer. This individual would be the face of your major donor program, coordinating all major donor communications efforts. Their tasks could include:

  • Helping to prepare major gift marketing and promotional materials
  • Handling files and information pertaining to major donors
  • Staying in touch with major donors to steward those relationships
  • Making the ask of a potential major donor
  • Continuing to build a base of prospects

With someone in charge, now you can determine your plan for when, how, and what you will communicate with prospective major donors. Ensure that every member of your team knows their role moving forward.

Consider the following questions as you build your plan:

  • What will your initial contact with each prospect be?
  • How often will you communicate with each major donor?
  • What will your message be?
  • How will you track communications, outcomes, and progress?
  • How often will your team meet regarding the major donor program?
  • What can be done to keep this group engaged with your organization?

Remember: The focus with potential major donors should be the most personalized cultivation possible.

Step 3: Engage with Major Donors

An ideal place to begin when cultivating relationships with major donors is a brief introductory meeting. You may be meeting with current donors who already know much about your organization. Or, it may be a conversation with prospects who are brand new to you.

While the content may vary, first and foremost, position each donor as front and center in your mission work. Frame your conversation on how the person in front of you makes a difference. Other topics to discuss with the prospect include the mission of your organization and your upcoming fundraising plans and goals.

From there, continue to maintain regular, personal touches with your major donor prospects. Some ways to engage major donors include:

  • Regular check-in calls, personal notes, or meetings
  • Inviting them to volunteer
  • Providing a tour of your office/facilities
  • Giving them opportunities to meet the beneficiaries of your organization
  • Hosting a formal event or gala

Another idea is to consider developing a major donor society. Your major donors are a special group. Having a society to specifically recognize that select group can have many benefits. Not only will it make donors feel they are a part of something exclusive—it can also help you to raise more funds in the long run. If a donor plans to give a certain amount for an annual gift, and membership in your society is based on gift amounts that are a bit more, that donor may be inspired to give more to become a part of the society. You can host events exclusive to members of the society and provide perks or gifts for them as well.

Step 4: Reporting

You’re getting to know your donors, encouraging their involvement, and maybe you’re ready to make the ask. One thing that can help, both before making an ask and after a gift is made, is to be diligent in your reporting. Be very transparent about what each donor’s major gift allowed you to accomplish, both with specific details and regarding your big picture mission.

Talking about results may be a part of your discussion with a major donor leading up to a gift. If you can show them before the gift is made the clear steps that could be taken to achieve a goal, and what each piece would cost, it helps the donor to better understand their potential impact.

A piece of the reporting process is knowing how much and how often each major donor wants to hear from you. Some donors may be more interested in certain data than others; some may want all the details you can give, while others want less. Part of your cultivation process will be identifying where each major donor falls on this spectrum and providing personalized reporting accordingly.

Step 5: Track & Reevaluate

Open laptop with coffee cup and two sheets with printed data

Understanding the success of your major gift program will require you to track your progress and evaluate the success of your strategies. The only way to understand where you’re at and where you could improve is to consistently track your data. Keep detailed information on:

  • The results of any campaign specific to major donors
  • Each interaction you have with a major donor
  • When an ask is made
  • When gifts are received & the size of each gift
  • Your retention rates for major donors 

Remember: major giving is a marathon, not a sprint. It takes time to build these relationships with prospective donors to reach a point where you can ask and receive a major gift. You’ll likely be trying a variety of strategies in your efforts to connect with each prospective donor on your list.

At Paw Print, we’re poised to assist with all your fundraising materials, including mailing services, brochure and booklet printing, graphic design, and copy writing. Contact us today to start a conversation about developing a major donor appeal campaign.

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