More than 72% of private philanthropy (a whopping $390 billion in 2016*) comes from individuals, much of it in the form of major gifts of $10,000 or more. Individual major gifts programs have a high return on investment (ROI) and these donors are often more flexible than other sources of support, making them well worth the effort, especially compared with . grant writing and special event fundraising, which require significant amounts of staff time and can often be restrictive, especially in the case of foundation grants.
If your organization isn't engaged in some form of individual major gifts work, you are missing out on the single largest source of private philanthropic support in the US! So, what are you waiting for? Now is the time to build a major gifts program! Here are some ways to get started:
1) Build a list - even if it's a small one! Review your list of donors over the past three years and choose the most generous and consistent supporters. Pick your top 25-50 names and review them with your staff and board to see what you can learn about them. Keep track of the information on a spreadsheet to start. Then do some online sleuthing to assess their capacity, interests and connections. Google and Zillow often yield excellent information.
2) Build a strong case for support. Major gifts are larger-than-average investments in your organization. You MUST be prepared to make a strong case for your funding priorities. Always think about the WHY! Why are your plans and programs important? Why should people care? Why should donors invest in your organization?
3) Build a team of partners to help you reach out to major prospects. Your program staff, board members, loyal donors and volunteers can all serve as effective ambassadors and door openers for your organization - and they don't have to ask for money!
4) Build time in your schedule to visit your prospects. Committing the time to get out and meet prospects is essential to a successful major gifts effort. To start, set a goal of 4 to 6 in-person visits per month and then prioritize your prospects. Review your prospect list every week to make sure you are staying on track and remember that persistence pays off!
5) Build a relationship - well before you ask for a gift. While some types of fundraising are transactional (direct mail, special events, etc.), major gifts are all about building authentic relationships OVER TIME. Ask prospects for their intellectual capital before you ask them for their social and financial capital. As Ethel Barrymore said, "The best time to make friends is before you need them."
Investing in a major gifts program can pay enormous dividends for your organization and it is never too soon to start. Becoming a comfortable and confident major gifts "pro" takes time and practice. By getting out the door on a regular basis to engage with donors who support your organization's work and mission, you'll be well on your way!
Need help getting started? Contact us today to learn more about our major gifts training programs and fundraising consulting services.
* Giving USA 2017 Report