Major donors: How to make sure major gifts aren't just a one-off 1 year ago

Receiving a major gift is a momentous occasion for any charity.

Not only does a major donation give an immediate injection of much-needed cash, major gifts are often the first step in a long journey of significant support for your cause. Support which has the potential to upscale operations helping you further reach your mission in the process.  

With a strategic major donor program in place, you can implement stewardship strategies that will shape first-time major donors into regular and potentially planned givers who provide substantial value to your cause.

Whether a gift is categorised as major is dependent on the organisation.  

For some, $1000 is considerable enough to be classified as a major gift. For others, $10,000 or more may be the benchmark which a donor must reach before becoming ‘major’.     

While major gifts are undoubtedly deserving of bell ringing and a celebratory dance, a major gift isn’t the pinnacle of your fundraising program. Relying on your donors to repeat their gift at the same or higher level long into the future, is.

Once you’ve received the first major gift from a donor, allow yourself a brief celebration, but don’t rest on your laurels. Here are some strategies to implement to make sure your major gift isn’t just a one-off.

Discover the donor’s motivation to give

The decision to make a sizable gift is often made based on far more than the donor’s financial situation.  

Perhaps your cause has improved the lives of the donor and their family. Maybe they’ve built a special bond with your major gift manager. Or yours may simply be a cause they’re passionate about.

Identify the reason for giving at such a generous level by asking your donor. It sounds simple but when relationships are the key to your success, having this basic conversation will help you tailor future fundraising efforts to better meet their needs.

Personal contact is key to helping you build relationships with your donors but if major gifts are a frequent occurrence in your organisation, consider running a survey through your database and correlating the results across all donors in the major giving program.  

This data will give you greater visibility across this level of giving which will help with your future major giving strategy.

Your major gift manager must keep a meticulous notes system in your database. While it’s he or she who has built and maintained the relationship with your major donor and made the ask that led to the gift, staff come and go.

It’s vital that you have all the donor’s information stored in a central system so anyone can access it and you can tailor appeals that match your donor’s primary motivation for giving.  

Find appealing projects

Giving at a major gift level often involves a philanthropic desire to create change within the organisation and wider community. This may involve earmarked funding for a project that may not proceed without their contribution.

Create a project ‘wish list’ register in your database that everyone in the organisation can access. Once an appropriate project becomes available for funding, bring it to the attention of your major donor.

Depending on the size of your organisation, it’s likely fundraisers will have no idea about some of the needs of other departments, so giving company-wide access to a shared database will raise awareness of funding requirements that might appeal to your donors.

Invite major donors to events

Once a donor has given over a certain threshold, they become part of your family. Invite them to all events and not just those designed as fundraisers.

‘Thank you’ events, and events designed to raise awareness within the community are just as important. Invite your donors as guests of honour, ask them to unveil a new building, or give a speech about why they support your cause.

Keep an internal record of their responses to your invitations so you can analyse why they did or didn’t attend and make sure your next event meets their needs better.

If they RSVP’d ‘no’, ask them why. Perhaps they didn’t like the theme, have mobility issues, or simply had a prior engagement.

If your donor has advised they don’t want to attend events in future, set a rule in your database to make sure you don’t invite them in error.

More importantly than their participation is that your donors know you’ve heard and respected what they say.  

Acknowledge personal milestones

Always acknowledge birthdays and momentous events such as a retirement or the birth of a child or grandchild. These events are important to your donor and going above and beyond will help build personal relationships that lead to future gifts.

In a busy role, it would be impossible to remember everyone’s birthday and key dates of all your supporters so add them into the calendar function of your CRM and run regular reports to make sure you don’t miss significant events.  

Acknowledge their gift in a way that they choose

Your donor stewardship program is likely to involve thank you gestures such as commemorative plaques, a mention in your annual review, or perhaps social media acknowledgement.

While you may have systems in place, all donors are different in how they like you to show gratitude. Some donors like a big fanfare while others prefer to fly under the radar and may even want to remain anonymous.

Ignoring their wishes either mistakenly or otherwise will make your donor think twice about making future donations at the same level. Record their requests in your database and personalise your generic stewardship program to meet every major donors’ individual requests.

Major gifts, while often the result of an intentional approach to fundraising, are a lot less work than many fundraising programs such as events and financially, can offer a lot more reward. To implement data-based systems that improve stewardship of major donors and encourage them to repeat their gift long into the future, contact SupporterHub today to find out how we can help you.