Major Gifts

5 Major Gifts Mistakes To Avoid (And What To Do Instead)

By avoiding common pitfalls and instilling major gifts best practices, you can build donor relationships that will stand the test of time. Here's how!

Major donors are an increasingly important factor in every organization's fundraising strategy, especially as fundraising trends point toward fewer total individual donors (who make bigger gifts). Are your current major donors giving to their full potential? Are you correctly identifying good prospects to cultivate for future major gifts? By avoiding some common pitfalls and instilling major gifts best practices, you can build donor relationships that will stand the test of time and provide reliable support to your mission. 


Download: Donor Cultivation & Stewardship Plan Template

Mistake #1: Neglecting Donor and Donation Retention

Evaluating year-over-year fundraising performance can give you valuable insight into the health and effectiveness of your major gifts program. If your donors are lapsing or reducing their gift amounts, it could be well worth your time to review and improve the ways that your stewardship strategies are encouraging donor retention. There are many valid reasons that a donor may stop or reduce their giving, but if you ask donors for feedback you may also discover opportunities to address preventable causes of major donor attrition. 

To proactively address your major donor retention, invest up-front time in creating personalized stewardship plans for each donor. The best way to keep donors coming back each year is to communicate clearly how their partnership with your organization has made an impact on the causes that they care about and to show genuine appreciation for everything they bring to the table (including, but certainly not limited to monetary donations).

Mistake #2: An Unbalanced Value-For-Effort Ratio When It Comes To Personalization

With limited resources available, prioritization is a necessary facet of all nonprofit work. On a recent webinar, we spoke with the Development Director of Instil partner organization, The Rosewood Initiative, about the importance of finding the "sweet spot" when it comes to personalization of high-touch fundraising outreach. Adopting a one-size-fits-all approach to donor communication fails to acknowledge individual preferences and can lead to disengaged donors - but devoting too much time to engaging with one donor may reduce the amount of people we are ultimately able to connect with.

To find the right balance for your organization, adopt a mix of high-effort, high-value outreach alongside mid-effort and mid-value tactics. The positive relationship that your donors associate with your high-effort communications will continue to be bolstered by ongoing communications, even if they are slightly less personalized. Whatever you do, avoid tactics that are high-effort and low-value, as they drain your time without significantly improving your donor relationships.

Mistake #3: Ignoring Shifts In Donor Motivation 

The emotional connections that donors have with your cause are a powerful motivator for their involvement with your organization. While we're often accustomed to learning this information about our donors at the beginning of our relationship with them, it is also possible for these motivations to change and evolve with time. Shifts in a donor's life and circumstances may lead to new interest in aspects of your work that they had not prioritized before.

Understanding your donors' motivations to give should be an ongoing process. Checking in with your donors regularly and providing them opportunities to express their interests on an ongoing basis can help you continue to connect them with the opportunities to support your mission that are most inspiring to them. In addition to checking in with Donors, Instil partner organization The Rosewood Initiative recently shared how they use Fundraising Campaign tracking to discover donor interests and tailor outreach appropriately. 

Mistake #4: Limiting Avenues For Engagement

At the end of the day, major donors give not just because can, but because they care. While contributing financially is certainly one of the best ways that they can support your cause in a material way, it can be easy to restrict their engagement opportunities to financial transactions, overlooking the potential for deeper, more holistic involvement.

When possible, cultivating a sense of community and purpose by involving major donors in volunteer events, inviting them to planning committees, and asking those with relevant backgrounds or personal networks for their thoughts or connections to other resources goes a long way toward making donors feel like true partners in your work.

Mistake #5: Overlooking Donor Appreciation

Underestimating the importance of timely and sincere appreciation for donor contributions leads to donors who feel undervalued and unappreciated, leading to a decrease in recurring gifts and potential attrition.

Make sure not only to express appreciation immediately after a gift is made, but again over time, particularly when you are able to highlight the work your organization has been able to accomplish, thanks to your donor's contribution. 


Unlocking the full potential of major gifts begins with avoiding these common mistakes and embracing a holistic, impact-centered approach to fundraising. Remember, every donor has a unique story to share, and when you listen and respond, transformative partnerships are possible. 

Is your team easily able to record insights from donor meetings, and access and share this information to inform future donor outreach? Are you effectively tracking major donor lifecycle progression, staying on top of follow-ups, and ensuring that each donor in your portfolio receives personalized communication? Instil is designed to supercharge major gifts fundraising by making your high-value outreach lower-effort, so that you can make more connections and cultivate deeper relationships with your donors. Learn more about us here!

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