How Do You Get Major Donors?
17 years ago, I was working at one of the top direct-marketing fundraising agencies in the country. We had just landed a brand-new client, and I was in charge of leading the team to work on their account. If I told you which this nonprofit was, you would recognize it immediately because its revenue and brand is incredibly strong.
But 17 years ago, it was not a recognized brand. At the time, it had about 50,000 donors and was bringing in about $10 million in total revenue from those donors. Now, you may be at a nonprofit that would love that many donors and revenue, but for the work this nonprofit did, it was very small.
At the time, it also had a tiny major-gift program. It raised, maybe, $500,000 per year.
You could say it had a major-gift pipeline problem—a big problem.
However, it also had a new CEO at the time who recognized that if the organization was going to grow and fulfill the vision he had, they had to invest in new donor acquisition. He understood that if this organization was going to meet the demands of the need it was addressing over the next two decades, it had to do something very dramatic now.
Long story, short: Over the next five years, they heavily invested millions of dollars into new donor acquisition—direct mail, online, print, television, volunteer opportunities, etc. Then, they maintained that investment each year after.
Why? To get the major-gift pipeline flowing.
The result: Today, this nonprofit brings in over $500 million in revenue! It has over 500,000 donors, and over $100 million comes from their major-gift program. They recently did a study of its major donors to understand where they came from. Eighty-five percent of them came from a first gift of $25.
Yep, it started with that investment 17 years ago.
Now, you could read this story and say to yourself, “Well, that’s great for them. We don’t have millions of dollars to spend on new donor acquisition.”
My argument back to you would be, “the point is that if you really want to grow your major-gift program over time, you have to diversify how you bring in new donors now.” You don’t need a million dollars, but you do need the desire and foresight to invest in new donor acquisition strategies now… in other words you have to make a commitment to it now, or you will always be treading water.
One thing that I really respected about the CEO who had the vision for growth was this: 1) He risked his position when he sold the concept to the board. At first the board was very skeptical to invest that kind of money into new donor acquisition, but the CEO persisted and won the argument. 2) This CEO knew he would not be there to see the positive outcome of that vision. Yet, he persisted because he knew it was best for the organization, not to boost his own ego.
The result is that this nonprofit is one of the most respected in the country, doing incredible work with a robust major gift program that many people did not think was possible.
Do you and your organization have this type of vision for growing your major-gift program and thus the ability for your nonprofit to prosper and meet the ever-demanding needs in the world?
If you are concerned about your major gift pipeline start reviewing how you are currently bringing in new donors and spend the time and energy it takes to start filling that pipeline. Years from now, you will reap that investment.
If you like baseball, tennis, golf, Gregorian chant, jazz, rock, good wine and deep conversation, then you’ll like to hang out with Jeff.
If you are passionate about fundraising, Jeff will inspire you to be a true “broker of love” for your donors, helping you bring together a donor’s desire to change the world and the world’s greatest needs. Jeff believes that if nonprofits truly want to grow and obtain more net revenue for their mission, it will come through creating, building and successfully managing major-gift programs. The Connections blog will give you inspiration and practical advice to help you succeed. Jeff has more than 25 years of nonprofit fundraising experience and is senior partner of the Veritus Group.