What is donor cultivation and why is it important? How do you build a donor cultivation plan? We'll cover all of the basics you need to know to get...
How to Build a Major Gifts Fundraising Plan
Creating a major gifts fundraising plan doesn't have to be complicated. We’ll help you start with best practices and a free template for building donor relationships.
The term “major gifts fundraising” may conjure up images of large foundations or national nonprofits with robust, dedicated development teams asking for multi-million dollar donations. The truth, however, is that nonprofits of any size can build an effective, achievable major gifts fundraising plan.
The size of what constitutes a major gift will depend on your goals and current capacity. For smaller nonprofits, any gift $1,000 or more could count as a major gift. Meanwhile, other nonprofits may target $10,000 gifts to jumpstart a new program.
The takeaway here? Even if you’re new to major gifts fundraising, building a plan for these large gifts is within your reach!
In this article, we’ll help you get started by introducing the key elements of a traditional major gifts plan, from identifying the right donors to reporting back to them on how you used their gift.
1. Identify the Right Donors
Major donors should be individuals who want to engage more with your nonprofit. To find these people, stick to the “three Cs” of identifying major donors:
- Connection: Consider the individual’s current level of involvement with your nonprofit. Do they feel like your nonprofit is a part of their identity or like they’re “part of the family”? Look at their holistic involvement, including volunteer history, social media mentions, and event attendance to get a sense for how connected they are to your organization.
- Commitment: Look at how much the individual cares about your cause and why. Do they personally know someone impacted by your work? Do they work in a related field? Get an idea of the individual’s interests and personal history to understand whether your mission resonates strongly with them.
- Capacity: Understand what their current giving ability is. Are they in a senior-level position in their career or just getting started? Did they recently receive an inheritance or another windfall that they’re looking to put toward a good cause? Look at their giving history and current financial situation to understand if it’s appropriate to ask them for a major gift.
A great place to start when identifying these donors is with your list of current donors. Query your donor database to review which donors:
- Gave multiple gifts in the past year
- Have shown loyalty to your nonprofit through an automatic recurring donation
- Are in the group of donors from the past year whose gifts made up 90% of your total revenue
You can also review your current board members, committee members, volunteers, and other community champions, whether or not they have given their first donation, to see if any show promise for major donor cultivation.
2. Set a Fundraising Goal for Each Donor
Once you’ve created your list of major donors to cultivate, set a personalized fundraising goal for each of them. It might be tempting to lump your major donors into a general “major ask” category, but having specific numbers for each will better drive your major gifts fundraising plan.
Donor-specific fundraising goals help:
- Budget for the year. Help your team see the range of what your major gifts fundraising plan can contribute toward your annual revenue and which projects it will fund.
- Drive how you cultivate each donor. You may need to plan additional activities or touchpoints for the donor from whom you’re asking for a $50,000 gift versus the one from whom you’re hoping to get a $5,000 gift.
- Provide your stewardship team with motivation. Clear fundraising targets can motivate your team to work hard to reach collective goals.
3. Cultivate Each Donor Individually
Asking for major gifts requires a high level of personalization when it comes to cultivation. You need to have a personalized plan that goes beyond the segmented donor groups you may already have for different email appeals or other campaigns. Major donors need to know they’re special, and the way to accomplish that is through highly customized, individual cultivation plans.
Some of the details you’ll want to incorporate into your individual major donor cultivation plans include:
- Communication preferences: Do they appreciate phone calls or in-person meetings? Do they expect handwritten thank-you notes or hardcopy annual reports?
- Areas of interest: Do you have particular programs or areas of interest they’re more connected to than others? Do they want to support your general operations or help launch a new initiative?
- Personal connections: Are they connected to one of your staff or board members in a useful way? Has their employer been involved with your nonprofit before?
Use the information you have about each donor to tailor your stewardship to the individual donor’s needs and interests. Make sure each member of your stewardship team has access to holistic information about the donors they're cultivating, including not just past donations but also volunteer activity, family members who are involved in the organization, and more.
While this may seem like a time-intensive task, there are ways to streamline the process. You can collect this information in your centralized donor database which can be easily shared across your team. Once you begin your cultivation plan with the donor, ensure each team member is recording their interactions in this same space to create a historic cultivation record.
4. Make Your Ask
Your ask for a major donation is the bridge between what your donor would like to see your organization accomplish and what your needs are. Through your cultivation efforts, you should be able to identify where there is overlap between the two.
By the time you’re ready to make your ask, you should already have a strong connection with your donor. They should have an idea of where your nonprofit is trying to head in the future and how their support could make that a reality. Through ongoing cultivation, they should anticipate the ask coming, rather than it being like a “cold call.”
When you make the ask, continue to communicate it in a way that shows how the money will be put to use and the impact it will have. Your ask should be delivered as something for the donor to consider, but with a specific dollar amount attached to it.
For example, let’s say your donor’s name is Suzanne and you’ve identified and cultivated her as a good major donor option to support a new trap-neuter-return program for your nonprofit animal shelter. The basics of your ask would look like this:
Suzanne, thank you so much for your continued support of our mission. As we’ve discussed previously, our biggest hurdle right now is caring for the growing population of feral and stray cats in our community. Today, I’d like to ask you to consider a gift in the $10,000 range to allow us to launch a new trap-neuter-return program.
This includes language that gives the donor time to consider the ask, a specific donation range you’re looking for, and enough details to show how the donation will be put to good use.
5. Give Ample Thanks
All donors need to feel appreciated. Donors who give significant gifts that allow your nonprofit to jumpstart new programs or expand your reach especially require sincere thanks. Avoid missing a thank-you touchpoint by having a timeline in place for when and how you’ll thank your major donors following their gifts.
For example, your thank-you strategy may look like this:
- Call the donor within 48 hours of the gift to thank them and let them know what they can expect next
- Send a tax receipt with a thank-you note within one week of receiving the gift
- Have the executive director, manager of the newly funded program, or another senior team member call or write to the donor within the first month of receiving the gift to share their thanks
- Send a mid-project update thanking the donor again, potentially including thank-you notes from beneficiaries of the funded program
Having a solid thank-you timeline in place is key to turning major donors into lasting, long-term relationships.
6. Demonstrate Accountability With the Gift
Post-gift stewardship is nearly as important as the initial thank-you in demonstrating your accountability to the donor. Don’t leave major donors wondering how their gift is being spent or if it has been yet. And don’t leave them hanging to the point where they have to reach out to you for an update.
Instead, report back promptly to the donor as you use their gift and let them know the frequency with which you will provide updates. Your update frequency will depend on what makes sense for your funded project that best shows that you’re doing what you said you would with the donation. If there are any delays in spending the gift, share those too, along with details of your plans to get things back on track as quickly as possible.
As your funded project or initiative gets moving, send your major donor data that shows the impact it is having toward your mission. Remind them that they made that impact possible.
Build a Major Gifts Fundraising Plan to Move Big Projects Forward
Major gifts provide opportunities for nonprofits to launch new initiatives or expand their current work to have a greater impact. Nonprofits of any size can secure major gifts through building and following a major gifts fundraising plan. Following the steps above can help your nonprofit establish a process for this critical revenue source.
Ready to get to work? Download our Donor Cultivation And Stewardship Template to start creating your major gifts fundraising plan today!