Major Gift Fundraising – Are You Making These 3 Critical Mistakes?

In the nonprofit fundraising world, major gifts are where the action is. There is huge potential for impact when you connect your organization to individuals with the capacity to make a significant gift. Whatever stage of Moves Management you are in with a particular donor, you want to continue to cultivate a successful relationship.

Here are 3 critical (and common!) mistakes fundraisers, development officers and Board members make when meeting with their top donors and—more important—how you can avoid these costly errors.

Mistake #1:  Not Preparing For the Meeting

Meeting with a major donor to your organization is one of the most important meetings of your job. Don’t wing it! This is a fabulous opportunity to help your organization shine.

Before meeting with a major donor:

Be clear about your goals for the meeting. For example, is this a cultivation meeting to continue to build a relationship with your donor? Or are you meeting to ask for a gift?

Be sure your donor understands the reason for the meeting, particularly if it is a solicitation (ask) meeting. You don’t want to surprise your donor by asking for a big gift if they are expecting to chat about an upcoming event.

Refresh your memory on your donor’s giving history. Ideally you and your organization have detailed records in your donor database so you can review this donor’s complete file. At a minimum, you should know: frequency and level of gifts, programs supported, and how long the donor has supported your organization. You’ll also want to know details about the donor’s most recent gift.

Practice your speaking parts. Spend time deciding what you will talk about—what are the stories you will share to demonstrate your donor’s impact? If another representative from your organization is joining you (for example, the CEO, Board member, or another stakeholder), be sure to determine in advance who will say what in the meeting. If you write out an internal agenda (not to be shared with the prospect) you can be clear on each person’s role.

If the purpose of your meeting is solicitation, and you are considering meeting with the prospect on your own, read my blog post: Partner Up! Why Fundraising Solicitations in Pairs Work Best.

Anticipate donor questions. I like to brainstorm and write down all of the questions a prospect might ask and how I would answer each one. This exercise is even more effective if done with your solicitation partner or members of your staff fundraising team.

The final step is to practice the answers out loud. Doing so may feel awkward, but it really helps to cement the answers in your mind.

Mistake #2:  Making the Meeting All About Your Organization

Sure, you’ll want to talk about the work your organization does, but this should not be a one-sided conversation.

Talk less and listen more. You want to have a donor-centered conversation with your donor. Be sure to really listen to what your donor is saying about your organization and its programs. If he or she connects with a specific program, take note so you can tailor any meeting follow-up appropriately.

Ask open-ended questions. Open-ended questions will get your donor talking about themselves and their connection to your organization’s mission and work. Examples of open-ended questions include:

  • What were your impressions when you first learned about our organization?
  • What are the things you think we are doing right?
  • What advice might you give us on ways we could improve?
  • In your opinion, what is the most exciting thing we are doing?
  • If you were to become more involved, what would that look like?

Mistake #3:  Not Following Up Appropriately

If you’ve done a good job listening to your donor (see above) then you’ll know the best way to follow up. One size does not fit all!

Summarize next steps before closing. Before you leave your donor meeting, be sure to summarize any next steps that have been discussed. If there were questions you were unable to ask, be sure to note these so you can get back to your donor with the answers. 

Continue your meeting conversation. If your donor talked about connecting with a specific program, that should be the focus of your follow-up. For example, if your donor likes the art therapy program, you might send more information about how art therapy helps your clients. Or you could invite this donor to visit the art therapy program and meet with the art therapy program participants.

For your next major donor meeting, be sure that:

  • Before the meeting, you prepare thoroughly
  • During the meeting, you ask questions and listen to the answers
  • After the meeting, you follow up in a meaningful way

What do you do to ensure you're putting your organization's best foot forward when you're meeting with a major donor? Please share in the Comments box below!

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