Creating a Major Donor Program: If You Build It, They Will Come
“The most useful and influential people in America are those who take the deepest interest in institutions that exist for the purpose of making the world better.” — Booker T. Washington
Throughout American history, there have been wealthy patrons who have used their money for good—Andrew Carnegie, Madam C.J. Walker, Bill and Melinda Gates, Charles Francis Feeney (aka “The James Bond of Philanthropy”). Just as you are called to make the world a better place, they are called to give back to their communities. It’s up to you to provide the opportunity for them to answer that call. Creating a major donor program for your organization can turn current donors into your very own team of philanthropic special agents.
But simply existing as a nonprofit isn’t enough. It takes time and energy to cultivate major donors. Most organizations experience the 80/20 rule—80% of donation dollars come from 20% of donors. By applying this rule of thumb to your own work, we recommend dedicating 80% of your efforts to cultivating that most generous 20% of your donors. From scheduling appointments to the actual meeting to your follow-up, you should budget approximately four hours per major gift appointment. Invest in them and they will invest in you.
The right team is essential for any good plan to succeed. Assemble and organize your team—including your leadership. People give to organizations they trust and that will involve face time with the head of your organization. Make sure your executive or artistic director is on board with personal lunches, home visits, and phone calls. Enlist your board members to help with connections and dedicate a staff person to prospect research. A Major Gifts Officer dedicated to these donors is ideal, but even a part-time staff person or trusted volunteer can make a world of difference and free up your director to be out in the field. However small or big your team, you’ll want to follow these essential steps.
Define what constitutes a major gift for your organization and identify your donors. Our guide, “How to Create a Major Donor Program,” walks you through a formula for how to identify the major donors already in your network. Use Network for Good’s fundraising software and personal fundraising coaches to analyze your data and perform a wealth screen.
From personal visits to dinner parties with multiple donors and prospects to thank you notes and phone calls, cultivating your donors is an ongoing responsibility that never leaves your to-do list. Once you have identified them, get to know them. What programs of yours interest them? What other organizations do they support? What are their hobbies, favorite dessert, what does their spouse do, where do their children go to school? Be interested and actively listen—before, during, and after you pop the question.
When was the last time you asked someone for $10,000? It’s not something you simply blurt out casually. Go to your meeting with a strategy that covers the amount you plan to ask for and your pitch for why they should consider such a significant amount. Prepare with your staff and have reasons why they should dig deep or overcome their hesitation.
Saying thank you is just as important as your initial request. When people feel appreciated they’re more likely to continue supporting your work. Thank them personally, in published donor lists, at organizational events and celebrations. And you can never say thank you enough. A random note of appreciation or phone call out of the blue lets them know they’re never far from your thoughts. Even for those donors who want to remain anonymous, your personal recognition of their gift is essential to your relationship.
Creating a major donor program doesn’t just serve you…it serves others. Download our guide, “How to Create a Major Donor Program,” for an in-depth look at how to identify, cultivate, solicit, and steward the major donors of your organization, and you’ll grow your major donor program in no time. Happy fundraising!