While it is true that every donor is important for every nonprofit organization, major donors require a bit more personal care than the average donor. It's just common sense. If a donor is going to make a major investment in your cause, he or she expects a closer relationship to the organization.
That makes having an effective, qualified and engaged major gifts team vital. At the 2012 Bridge to Integrated Marketing and Fundraising Conference last month, three fundraising professionals shared essential leadership skills every major-gifts team should have. Here are those skills that Julie Carter, president of Carter Consulting Group; Suzanne Mink, director of principal gifts, Mid-Atlantic at The Nature Conservancy; and Pam Traxel, vice president of alliance development and philanthropy development at the American Cancer Society Cancer Action Network provided during their session, "Building a High Performance Team to Support Major Donors."
CEO major-gifts essentials
Major gifts must be a priority from the top on down. That means the CEO must be involved in process just as much as the development staff. As such, there are some essentials the CEO must have to ensure a successful major-gifts team.
- The CEO must make a gift of his or her own, demonstrating the importance of the organization and providing an example for potential major donors.
- The CEO must understand that development and fundraising are multi-step processes that do not happen overnight. Donors must be cultivated and funneled through the giving pyramid. That means major donors must be nurtured from smaller donors to major donors.
- The CEO must devote the type of amount of time required by the donor and the development staff to get those major gifts.
- The CEO must carry and display passion and enthusiasm for the organization.
- The CEO must be prepared to make the ask. Major donors expect leadership to be heavily involved in the giving process.
Board chair major-gifts essentials
Going hand in hand with the CEO, the board of directors is integral in major giving. The entire board must show its commitment to the organization, and it begins with the chair.
- The chair of the board must set the example you want the rest of the board members to follow.
- He or she must make leadership gifts in the same vein as the CEO.
- The chair must demonstrate his or her belief in the mission and the organization's ability to achieve the mission, otherwise why would a major donor?
- The chair must support the CEO and development staff in their roles to get those major gifts.
- The chair must offer connections to prospective supporters and help unearth major donors or friends of major donors.
- And the chair and other board members must be comfortable making the ask when it comes to those high-level donors.
Board members major-gifts essentials
With the chair fully on board, the other members of the board of directors must:
- Make personally significant gifts.
- Make connections and introductions so the development staff has an even richer pool of prospects.
- Project enthusiasm about the mission and the organization's ability to achieve it.
- Ask for those major gifts.
Development staff major-gifts essentials
The development staff typically has to get a little more personally involved with major donors. Major gifts often come with increased scrutiny from the donors themselves. They will have questions and expect answers. So development professionals must be able to solve problems, find creative approaches and be committed to finding solutions and keep working until the goal is realized for both the organization and the major donor.