[Editor’s note: If you ever wanted to know how to position your organization for major gift success, look no further. In this guest post, nonprofit expert and Bloomerang CEO Jay Love has distilled critical tips for creating a solid transformational gifts strategy. Check out the recommendations and let us know how you plan to put them into practice for your nonprofit.]
After reading the groundbreaking research within Million-Dollar-Ready: Assessing the Institutional Factors that Lead to Major Gifts, by the Indiana University Lilly Family School of Philanthropy and Johnson, Grossnickle, and Associates, I realized that virtually every factor they mention can have an impact on larger gifts for other nonprofits, too.
The outstanding report examines the characteristics of higher education institutions that consistently attract publicly reported gifts of $1 million or more. The study drew on a unique data set of 1,449 higher education institutions that publicly received gifts worth $1 million or more between 2000 and 2012 that were reported on the Lilly Family School of Philanthropy’s Million Dollar List. These institutions received more than 10,500 such gifts worth a combined total of more than $90 billion during that period. The report also incorporates insights from in-depth interviews with donors and staff at case study institutions with a successful track record of securing million-dollar gifts, shedding light on both a major donor’s path to giving a gift at this level and the institution’s view of the process of attracting such a gift.
The insights in this report lead me to compile six key factors for every nonprofit to consider focusing on when striving for major gifts. Bear in mind, the study did not include charities outside of the higher education world, nor were any of the interviews outside that subset of the nonprofit world. However, my experience working with over 20,000 nonprofits over the past 30 years supports these factors as vital to major gift success.
1. Success Starts at the Top
Your nonprofit’s top leadership needs to be solidly in place, and there needs to be a clear and compelling mission. The stronger the leadership is perceived to be by donors, the higher the level of trust potential donors will feel for you. Together, these attributes inspire donors to participate at major gift levels.
2. The Board Must Be 100% In
The trustees and board members need to be 100% involved with as many potential donors as possible who would give at the major gift level. This involvement also means knowing the nonprofit’s mission, spreading the word, and being a willing ambassador in any manner required. This includes previous board members, especially in the area of monetary gifts.
3. Results Matter
Proper measurement of the impact of your mission is vital. The sooner the organization establishes the measurement methods and criteria, which are accepted by the public, the easier it is to attract larger value donors. Major donors also want to make an impact and to know for sure that their large gifts are doing just that.
4. Experience and Infrastructure Make a Difference
The longer your organization has been in place fulfilling its mission the more likely it is to draw major gifts. Such donors are looking for a solid infrastructure and a proven track record before making leadership level gifts. This includes proper staffing to address the stated mission. Major donors realize there have to be proper expenses to achieve results.
5. Endowments Count
Organizations with endowments are perceived as safe and secure for the placement of major gift dollars. The study found that the larger the endowment, the more likely million dollar gifts can occur.
6. Reputation and Publicity Assist
Being recognized by reputable authorities for your nonprofit’s impact is a huge plus! Donors must be aware of you and comfortable in announcing who they will support with a major gift. Never underestimate the value of recognition of this type.
These six factors make up a remarkably strong foundation and lever for major gifts. If you are a newer organization please do not be disappointed if not all six are currently in place. These six factors are not easy to establish and improve, hence their effect on major donors. In my opinion, being recognized as having all six is a game changer for your major gift aspirations. With them in place, perhaps your organization will be rewarded with one or more of the million dollar gifts serving as the foundation of the original study!