The 6 Pillars of Successful Major Gifts Programs

Major gifts, or significant individual donations to nonprofits, are essential to successful Development operations--but they don’t happen overnight. For many small and mid-sized organizations, building a major gifts program represents a critical step forward in elevating and expanding their fundraising potential.

Not sure where to begin? The following six pillars represent SJC’s framework for successful major gifts programs.

Pillar #1: Relationships are everything. 
Major gifts depend on relationship building. There's no substitute for developing meaningful, authentic relationships with both your internal and external constituents. This forms the foundation of your major gifts work; the relationships you build today will quite literally determine the success of your future fundraising efforts.

Pillar #2: Get organized.

Fundraising is often fast-paced, and it’s not uncommon for important details to sometimes fall through the cracks. The best way to prevent this from happening is to build and implement a fundraising database. Your database will serve as a shared resource for your entire team to track moves management--from prospect identification and qualification to cultivation, solicitation, and stewardship. No major gifts program can successfully operate without a robust fundraising database.

Pillar #3: It takes a village.
Every member of your organization is a fundraiser. Let me say that again: Every member of your organization is a fundraiser. Major gifts are most successful when frontline fundraisers are empowered to work collaboratively across programs, teams, and divisions to partner with organizational and volunteer leaders at all levels. This teamwork allows you to make a fuller, richer, and more compelling case for major gifts.

Pillar #4: Be specific.
Nobody likes to throw money into a black hole, and this is even more true when a donor is considering a major gift. As you build your major gifts program, it is critical to develop specific, multi-year funding opportunities that present a compelling and tangible need for your organization's growth. Major gift donors need to understand the potential impact of their investment, and major gift fundraisers need to be armed with this information so they can make a powerful case for support.

Pillar #5: Express your gratitude.
Stewarding major donors is just as important as soliciting them. Strategic stewardship enables you to deepen a donor’s engagement with your organization and provides a fantastic vehicle for demonstrating the impact of their gift. Your best major gift prospects are your current donors; keep them close by tailoring your stewardship actions to their individual preferences.

Pillar #6: Transparency is key.

When it comes to major gifts, building trust pays dividends. Never underestimate the power of demonstrating the tangible impact of a donor’s gift with clear data delivered in a timely manner. Consider the difference between “thank you for supporting our scholarship fund” versus “your gift allowed us to provide six students with the opportunity to participate in a full summer of enrichment programming.” Tell the full story, and watch your donors’ investment grow.

And there you have it! What are some of your favorite strategies for major gifts success?

--Lauren Hall

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