The Nonprofit Marketing Blog

Major Gifts Fundraising 101: It’s Not About Us. It’s About Them!

Fundraising is the gentle art of teaching the joy of giving. —Henry Rosso

Back in the early 2000s, my husband and I lived in London for a few years. During one memorable job interview, a very clueless (okay, uninformed) interviewer asked me rather abruptly, “What’s the difference between you and someone on the street shaking a tin cup?” It’s okay to cringe. I did. Rather, I think I did either before or after I picked up my chin from the table in shock. It took me about a second to compose myself before I embarked on a long reply about the strategy and relationship-building skills that I would bring. Fundraising to him was perceived as unpleasant (I am reading between the lines of his question!) and begging (how else do you describe shaking a cup for money?). It was random, unpleasant, and certainly involved little to no contact between fundraiser and donor.

What this interviewer didn’t understand is that as fundraisers, we aren’t just asking people for money. That’s certainly a major job responsibility, but there’s a lot more to what we do. We are relationship architects between our organizations and the donors who currently or, we hope, will eventually support us. This is true across all kinds of fundraising—annual funds, online/mobile giving, individual and institutional major gifts, events, planned gifts. Our goal is to create two-way conversations that are not transactional and circular exchanges of asking and receiving money. We know this isn’t sustainable in the long term. How do we shift our approach to our donors? Let’s start by looking what giving does for the donor—an important starting point to becoming “donor-centric.”

Research has found that giving has a positive psychological effect on donors. Three different studies I’ve come across all concluded that there’s a correlation between a person’s charitable giving behaviors and their level of happiness. Arthur Brooks found patterns in his research of charitable giving that seemed to suggest that donors become wealthier after making their philanthropic gifts. All three research studies consistently showed that people who gave money charitably said they were “very happy” versus nongivers who reported lower percentages of happiness. Similar statistics are related to volunteering as well. Wow! Giving and volunteering make donors feel healthier and wealthier and give them a greater sense of empowerment and purpose.

This means that fundraising—both asking and receiving—can actually be a pleasant and happy experience. So, why does fundraising sometimes seem so hard? Donors want to give their money away, right? The answer may lie in how we’re talking to them.

Step 1 is “the why”: understanding the philosophy that drives your donor.

Several months ago, the Chronicle of Philanthropy published an article that caught me eye called “What Donors Want to Hear Before a Fundraiser Seeks a Big Gift.” Interestingly, it wasn’t about sharing strategies and metrics of an organization’s work—getting to that “impact” and “effectiveness” we know is important. The article reported that time and again, donors felt like fundraisers didn’t stop to learn about them—their philanthropic dreams and intentions, factors that influence their giving patterns (income, family responsibilities, other charitable commitments, etc.). Equally as important, major donors didn’t feel like organizations didn’t view them as partners—as co-investors in their success. That’s key. How many times have we as organizations felt hesitant to “involve” our major prospects by “sharing too much” with donors about our dreams, challenges, and solution ideas because we don’t feel they have programmatic expertise and will only start to “meddle”? So, before we launch our pitch or make our ask, think about how well do we know what drives our donors to invest in us?

Step 2 is what I call “the what”: positioning your mission, vision, and work in a way that demonstrates results and change.

Donors of all kinds, whether high net worth individuals, annual fund donors, foundations, or corporations, are driven by a sense of wanting to make a difference. They are giving through an organization to solve a societal issue that is important to them. That’s why impact and effectiveness are key data points that donors are watching. Donors simply want to be sure their gift of whatever size is helping to move the needle toward solving a problem—greater access to education, an end to homelessness, a reduction in hunger, stronger community resilience, and so on. It’s like choosing a stock to buy: You want the one that’s performing the best. But in this case, social change is the “profit” that all philanthropists are measuring, and the organization that demonstrates the biggest results and potential for results are the high-performing stock.

Next time, I’ll address Step 3, “the how” of crafting meaningful major gift conversations that engage and inspire your donors.

Raise More This Year with Easy-to-Use Fundraising Software that Gets Results

Learn More

Share your thoughts!

Join the conversation to offer your insight and experience. Have a question? We’d love to hear it!

About This Blog

Linda Lombardi

We’re here to help you win hearts and minds—and donations.

Read More

Want to raise more money and learn how to market your cause with bigger impact? You’re in the right place! The Nonprofit Marketing Blog is managed by our team of experts here at Network for Good. We’re here to bring you the best in nonprofit marketing trends, fundraising techniques, technology developments, and amazing nonprofit examples.

Want to be a better nonprofit marketer and fundraiser? Get alerts for free tips, key content, and other training opportunities.

Subscribe