Major Donor Fundraising 101

by Joe Garecht

Many non-profits, particularly smaller churches, schools, and charities, believe that all they need to succeed is for that one (or two… or three…) major donors to come knocking and fund the projects that the organization has in the pipeline.

Unfortunately, as these organizations usually find out, major donors rarely just show up and write a check.  Major donor fundraising takes time, patience, and a game plan.  Today, we focus on these three areas as we present Major Donor Fundraising 101.

Before we start, I want to say one thing: don’t get discouraged!  Every organization that ever existed was once, perhaps a long time ago, exactly where you are today.  Major donors will come along to support your non-profit… it just may take more work and time than you think.  Whatever you do, remember to think big!

Major Donor Fundraising 101 Principle #1:  It Takes Time

Most major givers to non-profits don’t make on the spot decisions to support the charities they do.  Major donors generally like to get involved slowly, learning more about the organization as they go along, getting involved in programs, events, and advisory roles, and then start with small gifts and work their way up to bigger gifts.  In short, these donors like to make good decisions about whom they support.

What does this mean for your organization?  It means you have to be prepared to wait.  You’ll need to answer prospects’ questions, call them to touch base, invite them to events, take them to lunch, and ask for their advice… all before asking for a major gift.  Major donors like to make good decisions… you;ll need to take the time to prove to them that your non-profit is a good decision, and a good place for their hard earned dollars to find a home.  For more information on how to cultivate your donors, read 10 Ways to Supersize Your Donor Cultivation Efforts.

Major Donor Fundraising 101 Principle #2:  It Takes Patience

Making fundraising asks is part art, part science.   The art comes in, in part, in knowing when to make your ask.  Major donor fundraising takes patience.  Because major donors want to make sure that they are making a good decision in giving to your charity, they generally take longer than the average donor in walking down the cultivation highway.

For your school, church, or charity, this means that you’ll need to be so attentive to your prospective donor’s needs and desires that you know the right time to ask.  Follow the clues and listen to your prospects’ questions.  Give your prospect chances to volunteer or to otherwise get involved without making a monetary contribution… and ask for a sizeable gift, when the time is right.

Major Donor Fundraising 101 Principle #3:  It Takes a Game Plan

Your non-profit should have an individual donor plan (a “game plan”) for every major prospect that you come across.  Some prospects like events, others like mailings, still others like to be asked for input and advice.  Most major donors will need to be integrated into your organization’s fundraising networks.  Get to know your prospective donors, and develop a game plan for each that leads them towards the ultimate ask.  Every donor is different, and each donor needs their own game plan.

Major donor fundraising takes more time and patience then simply sending out a direct mail letter and hoping for the best.  With the right game plan and strategies in place, your major donor efforts will begin to bear fruit, and will ultimately provide a major boost to your development organization.

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