Your major donors are going to become more important to your nonprofit as the number of small-gift donors declines. That’s why knowing how to cultivate your major donors is imperative to the financial well-being of your nonprofit. Are you in need of a major donor cultivation strategy? Read on for our major donor cultivation best practices for helpful tips you need to successfully steward these important donors.
What is major donor cultivation?
Major donor cultivation is a strategy you implement to identify, steward, and solicit your potential and current major donors. This ensures your nonprofit can continue to receive major gifts donations. These donations are crucial for funding your nonprofit’s work. Major donors can also be instrumental in funding your capital campaigns, overhead expenses, and other costs of achieving your mission.
Clearly, your major donors are important! Stewarding them should be important as well. In the next sections we’ll learn how to identify, steward, and solicit donations from major gifts donors.
How to identify major donors
Identifying major donors often requires research. You should have a wealth of knowledge about existing donors in your database, which means you can use it to find major donors and set up meetings with major gift prospects outside of your donor database.
Look at your database for major gifts donors first. Keep an eye out for indicators such as:
- Previous major gifts
- Larger recurring donations
- Donors who own businesses or are affiliated with bigger businesses
- Real estate holdings
The first item on the list seems obvious, but it’s easy to forget or overlook past supporters, especially if there wasn’t a major gifts program before. One of the easiest ways to find major gift donors is to look at your previous major gifts and find out who gave them and why. If it’s been awhile, reintroduce yourself and rekindle that existing relationship. We’ll touch on that more in the major donor stewardship section.
While shy of a major gift, recurring donors who make larger gifts indicate they’ve got the capacity to make a major gift. While it’s perfectly acceptable to leave recurring donors alone to continue supporting you in this way, if you need larger gifts and need to increase your pool of potential major gift donors these donors would be great to get to know. Verify they truly have the capacity to give a major gift, though. You can use a wealth screening service to look for clues that they’re appropriate to ask.
What is a wealth screening service?
Wealth screening services are powerful tools in a major gift officer’s toolkit. You can search for donors and determine if they have any key indicators of wealth. These services usually estimate net worth based on careers and held assets. Additionally, you can determine other wealth factors like business ownership, real estate holdings, giving history to other organizations, and more.
Run all your potential major gift donors through a wealth screening tool to determine if they’re the right candidates to ask for major gifts. Many are geared exclusively to nonprofits and can even suggest a gift size range to ask for. If that range qualifies as a major gift at your nonprofit, they’re a viable candidate for a major gift ask.
Best practices for stewarding your major donors
Like other donors, major donors require more careful stewardship than one-time or recurring donors. To prevent losing your major donors and potential major donors, it helps to have a donor stewardship plan in place that’s specific to major donors.
An experienced major gifts officer is really helpful for forming an effective stewardship plan. Why? A major gifts officer should know how to convince prospective major gift donors to give a larger gift and should have an idea of the time it takes. The process can’t be rushed. If you want a major donor to give, you have to make sure their needs are met first.
Consider why they support you or would start supporting you. Then, tailor the plan to their interests. Is there a particular fund they care about? Did they receive your services? Are they just philanthropic? There can be myriad reasons a donor would choose to make a major financial contribution to your nonprofit. Your donor stewardship plan should be adjusted as you learn more about their motivations.
Elements to add to your stewardship plan
There are a lot of ways to steward your donors. Consider incorporating these ideas in your donor stewardship plan:
- Invite them to serve on a committee to show how much you value them
- Get them more involved with volunteer opportunities
- Bring them in for in-person visits and tours of your facilities
- Honor them at events
- Have beneficiaries write letters of thanks or record thank-you videos to major donors
- Recognize them for things unrelated to gifts and giving (i.e. Sending a birthday card, congratulating them on a promotion, etc.)
- Or invite them to a board meeting
In general, though, a donor stewardship plan should identify major donors, form a meaningful interpersonal relationship, educate them about your nonprofit, and then ask for a gift. After the gift, thanking major gifts donors and updating them before asking again is crucial.
People give to people so forming a meaningful relationship is the most important step in the plan. Give yourself time to accomplish this and get to know your major donors. When they think of your organization, they’ll think of you as a person, which makes it much harder to say no to requests for support.
Soliciting large gifts from your major donors
We talked a bit about asking for major gifts in the previous section, but how do you actually go about it? Asking for significant sums of money is not easy. Giving that large sum is even harder. It requires having faith that it’s going to a worthy cause and will make a significant difference. That’s why it’s important to request a meeting with major donors. Meeting in person gives you the opportunity to create and deliver a presentation that inspires them to give.
Come prepared with a presentation
During the presentation, outline how much you need, what it’s for, and why you think it’d be great for the donor to make this gift. When making the ask, be sure to start the conversation with casual conversation with your major donor. You don’t want to dive into an ask for $10,000+ dollars without making a little small talk first.
After the pleasantries are out of the way, let the donor know why you need funds. You can show them who the gift benefits and explain how. Be sure to let them know why your organization is the best solution to the problem. How does your approach differ from other efforts and what have been the results? Come with a mixture of both anecdotes and statistics to show that your approach is proven to be effective.
Be open to questions and rejections
When you’ve wrapped up your presentation, open it up to questions and make your major gifts donor feel at ease about making the gift. If they need time to think about it after digesting the information, schedule a follow up to discuss it. Hopefully you’ll be lucky enough to secure a commitment then and there. If that’s the case, be sure to help them complete their gift and thank them for their support before letting them know the next steps and what they can expect.
If they decline to help, that’s okay too. No just means not now, so continue stewarding them and building that relationship. Maybe they’ll be ready by the next time you have a need they can help you fulfill.
Your major donors are important for your mission. Make sure they have a great experience as a donor at your nonprofit. Approach them with your research done, with a plan in mind, and present your asks with a personalized meeting. Bear these three best practices in mind to ensure you get the best results from your major donor cultivation efforts.
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