The Basics of Major-Gifts Fundraising
Starting and maintaining a good program takes discipline, thoughtfulness, strategy and focus. We have assembled a checklist of "minimum essentials" for starting and maintaining a major-gifts programs. There is a lot of detail to each of these points, but here are the highlights:
- Design an appropriate organizational home for major gifts. This is about acknowledging that a major-gifts program is not direct marketing. We see managers who place the entire major-gifts program under the direct-marketing manager. Big mistake. Don't do it. Or they put it under the planned-giving director. Don't do this either. At the very least, major gifts should have a direct relationship to the director of development and operate as a separate entity.
- Create the right job description. Most often this little piece of paper is written wrongly — unbelievably wrongly! And then everyone wonders why the MGO is failing. The major-gifts job description is actually pretty simple: Qualify a caseload of 150 donors, set goals for those donors, develop a plan for each donor, create offers that match the donor's interests and passions, and then work the plan. That's it. No more than that. No events. No running around doing other stuff. Just manage and relate to 150 qualified donors.
- Find and hire the right talent. This is one of those things that just needs to be right. A good MGO is basically a good salesperson. We have a checklist for the minimums in this area. Get this one wrong and you will have dark days ahead. Get it right and you are in for an unbelievable ride!
- Make sure you select the right donors. Here's the thing: Not all donors who meet the major-gifts metric will actually qualify to be on a caseload. Don't assume that every donor who gives a lot of money actually wants to relate to an MGO. Not all of them do. There are donors — and then there are donors who want to be on a caseload. Make sure you get this right.
- Segment donors into top, mid and lower potential. Also, select three to five top-tier donors on which and with whom you will spend a great deal of time and to whom you will submit major proposals.
- Set goals and make plans for every donor. If you don't know where you are going financially or in your moves management, you will not get there. And make sure that a critical part of your planning is about identifying and serving major-donor interests and passions.
- Develop offers. Work with finance and program to come up with significant and substantial offers you can present to donors. These offers must have two attributes to qualify as "good offers." First, they must address a compelling need. Second, they must prove that the organization has a believable plan to address that need. Compelling and believable. Most offers we see have neither of these attributes.
- Create monthly reporting that captures how the same donors perform from month to month and year to year, measures progress against goals, tells you how the MGO is performing, and gives management a look at return on investment.
- Have a process for integrating new donors. It is a fact that not all current caseload donors will perform as expected, and new donors will migrate up to the major-donor level via direct marketing. You need to plan for this dynamic.
- Keep a high view of the entire program, and make sure the caseload value is growing, the MGO is productive and sufficient funds are being raised for the organization. Do not be satisfied with mediocre MGO performance. The average MGO caseload value should grow to $1 million and more.
Now, if you do all of what I've written above and you do it with discipline, thoroughness and focus, your major-gifts program will be successful. Sounds easy, doesn't it? Yep. But here's the rub: If you don't watch it, you will not execute some of these points, take shortcuts, decide there are other things that are more important and find yourself wandering away from the course we have talked about here.
If you’re hanging with Richard it won’t be long before you’ll be laughing.
He always finds something funny in everything. But when the conversation is about people, their money and giving, you’ll find a deeply caring counselor who helps donors fulfill their passions and interests. Richard believes that successful major-gift fundraising is not fundamentally about securing revenue for good causes. Instead it is about helping donors express who they are through their giving. The Connections blog will provide practical information on how to do this successfully. Richard has more than 30 years of nonprofit leadership and fundraising experience, and is founding partner of the Veritus Group.