Putting a major gifts process in place doesn’t happen overnight; it takes a strategic cultivation plan tailored to each potential donor. But as we’ve seen time and again, the result is always worth the effort.
Here are five important ways to improve your chances for success:
1. Know your “rights.”
Is it bad timing? Am I asking for too much? Or maybe not enough? When you’re about to solicit a major gift, nothing can be left to chance. Consider the five “rights” of making an ask:
• Right Solicitor: Who can have the most impact?
• Right Prospect: Do they have capacity and willingness?
• Right Amount: Have you done your research?
• Right Reason: Have you identified their passion?
• Right Time: Is your prospect ready to be asked?
2. Know your donor base.
Big donors are rarely strangers. Some questions you should be asking to identify top prospects:
• Does my organization have annual donors who could be giving more?
• Do we have mid-level donors who need individual cultivation in order to move to the next level?
• Do we have major gift donors who haven’t been stewarded in the past and are no longer giving?
• What needs to be done to move brand-new donors to ultimately make major gifts?
3. Get your board on-board.
Starting up a major gifts program is a huge undertaking, so it can’t rest only on staff members’ shoulders. Increasing board involvement in fundraising will translate to increased results. Even if they don’t want to make the ask, you can involve them strategically through tours, thank-you calls, cultivation visits and events. Meet with all members individually to discuss their roles and goals in fundraising. All prospective board members should be evaluated on their ability and willingness to be engaged in the major gifts process. Be sure to keep fundraising on the agenda at every board meeting—talk about successes and challenges.
4. Ask (the right way) and you shall receive.
A major gift ask cannot be rushed. Before sitting down with a prospect be sure you have developed an individualized approach. To start with, have you followed the five “rights”? A major gift ask should always involve an in person meeting – these are not conversations to be left to email, letters or phone calls. And remember, treat the prospect as if you are asking for an investment, and always plan to ask for a specific dollar commitment.
5. Don’t forget to follow up.
After the ask is made, follow up with your team. Ask yourselves, “What did we learn?” “How can we improve?” You must also follow up with the prospect: thank them for their time, ask what they think and always send a prompt follow-up note. Finally, remember to complete your assignments and follow up until a decision is made.
It is also vital to remember that after the gift is made, your job is far from over. This is the time to involve board and leadership staff members in the thank-you process. You must also take time to recognize, report back and show the impact of their gift.
Keep your focus on building and deepening the relationship with your donor, and the payoff will be significant.