Are You Ready to Step Up to the Majors? (Gifts, That Is)
When I was young, I considered myself a pretty good baseball player. I was invited to try out for the Cincinnati Reds and Pittsburgh Pirates. My goal was to play for the Cincinnati Reds. The Pittsburgh Pirates had a minor league AAA team in Charleston, W. Va., which was my hometown. I watched many Charleston Charlies baseball games. My dream ended at watching these games. I joined thousands of young men who would have loved to play in the major leagues.
The same is true in fundraising. If you spend any time in nonprofit resource development you will or should develop a desire to step up to major gift solicitation. Just like Major League Baseball, major gift fundraising is the highest level and is not easy. Many professionals are engaged in major gift fundraising but like a pyramid, very few excel at the highest level for a long period spanning multiple organizations.
DonorTrends listed major gifts as one of several fundraising pain points, noting that relationship-building is necessary to develop and secure leadership-level gifts. "These valuable relationships take time to build, and require proper stewardship and management," says the site. Potential major gift donors can stay at the mid-level, be upgraded immediately or cultivated over time to a higher gift level.
[You] can’t ask for a major gift until you’ve found the right prospect; developed a clear case for support; done the groundwork to get your prospect ready for the ask; and prepared yourself and your solicitors to knock the ask out of the park.
Here are the 10 questions Claire suggests for laying the groundwork for a major gift:
- Is this the right prospect?
- Will the prospect readily understand why you are asking?
- Do you know how many prospects and donors you will need?
- Is the prospect ready?
- Do you have a cultivation plan that adheres to the Goldilocks model?
- Do you have the right person to make the ask?
- Are you asking the right decision maker?
- Are you (or is your volunteer or staff member) prepared for the ask?
- Are you honest about what success will look like for your organization?
- Do you know what success will look like for your donor?
Becky Wiegand, writing for TechSoup, noted that major gifts come primarily from corporations, foundations and individuals. The No. 1 reason people make major gifts is because they are asked. The involvement of the board and other volunteer leaders is mandatory for a major gift program to be successful. Wiegand writes that establishing a major gift program can be painful, but is necessary for proper organizational growth.
Finally, DonorSearch listed 11 strategies for organizations trying to begin or improve their major gift programs. It's a good step-by-step outline for starting up in major gifts:
- Perform a prospect screening
- Consider planned giving potential
- Start a major donor society
- Hire a major gifts officer and/or team
- Host events catered to major donor acquisition
- Leverage the connections of your board
- Always share specific results
- Get major donors engaged as volunteers
- Show major donors their return on investment
- Study major gift metrics
- Prepare yourself for the long haul
Every fundraising program should include elements of annual gifts, major gifts and planned gifts. Success in the major gift arena is vital to organizational success. Every constituent involved with an organization should be involved and accountable for major gift success. A solid major gift program will take time to mature, but these programs may make or break an organization.
Ask yourself if you and your fundraising program are ready to step up to the major gift program level. If not, do not wait to take steps for this upgrade. And if any Major League Baseball team needs a second baseman, just call me. My dream will never die.
Duke has extensive experience as a nonprofit practitioner, author, lecturer and consultant. He has been a contributing author to NonProfit PRO for the last 11 years. He has been a long-standing member of the Association of Fundraising Professionals where he was previously named the AFP Indiana Chapter Fundraising Executive of the Year and has held the CFRE designation for many years.
He received his doctorate degree from West Virginia University with an emphasis in education administration, master's degree from Marshall University with an emphasis in public administration and a bachelor's degree from West Virginia University with an emphasis in marketing/management. He has also completed post graduate work at the University of Louisville.
He is currently executive director of development for The Salvation Army Indiana Division in Indianapolis, Indiana. Contact Duke at firstname.lastname@example.org or 317-224-1029.