5 Must-Haves for Starting a Major Gifts Program

There is huge potential for impact when you connect your nonprofit organization to individuals with the capacity to make a significant gift. But what does it take to be successful with major gift fundraising?

As a start, here are five must-have tools to help ensure your success! These five elements can help support any fundraising program but they are critical for raising major gifts.

case for support diagram

1. Case for Support

Your case for support, also called a case statement, is the bedrock of your fundraising program. Your case, according to the AFP fundraising dictionary, outlines the reasons why your organization both needs and merits philanthropic support, and includes an overview of current programs, opportunities, and plans. Your case for support is a presentation that sets forth your case.

To get started, check out 3 Tips for Writing a Dynamite Case for Support and my free guide, How to Write a Compelling Case for Support.

2. Gift Acceptance Policy

A gift acceptance policy is a written description of the types of gifts your organization accepts, the form in which those gifts may arrive, and your organization’s role in gift administration. A gift acceptance policy is a great tool for managing donors’ expectations regarding the assets they might consider gifting to your organization.

Just last week I wrote about why now is a good time to create or revise your gift acceptance policy, why a gift acceptance policy is important, what can happen if you don’t have one, and things to include when you draft yours. Check it out!

3. Donor Tracking System

Ideally your donor tracking system will be a database. You want a system that’s fast, efficient, easy to use and accessible to your entire development team. The spread sheets, filing cabinets and other tracking systems of yesteryear can only take you so far.

Access to accurate donor information is always critical to fundraising but even more so when soliciting major gifts. Major donor cultivation requires a personalized approach, always well served by the detailed donor records stored in your database.

A well maintained database will help ensure that:

  • All of your donor information is in one place, including contact info, donations given, programs supported, personal interests, family connections, business connections and more.

  • You can track pledge forms, email exchanges, phone calls, meeting discussions, cultivation steps, stewardship and more.

  • When a development team member moves on from your organization, all of the critical info outlined above will stay with your organization rather than exiting with the departing staff.

For more, check out 3 Ways a Donor Database Can Help You Raise More Money.

4. Process to Acknowledge Donors

When working with major donors, you can’t just send the same form letter to everyone who sends a check. In addition to a personalized letter, you’ll want other acknowledgment mechanisms to recognize these key donors. To start, think about:

  • How soon should your major donors be sent an acknowledgment letter? (3 days is considered best practice but I like to aim for 24 hours)

  • Who will sign the letter?

  • Will the donor receive anything in the envelope along with the letter?

  • In addition to a letter, will the donor receive a phone call? If so, who will make the call?

  • Will the donor be listed in your newsletter or on your website?

  • Will there be social media recognition?

  • What other special acknowledgment will donors receive?

One organization I know – an afterschool program for low-income kids – sends a framed photo of this year’s class of students to donors of $25,000 and above. Those who donate $5,000 and above receive a handwritten thank you note from a student.

Think about what special things you might do for your highest donors. You’ll want to put this all in writing and be sure your whole development team is putting this process into practice.

5. The Right People – Your Major Gifts Committee

Major gifts work takes time, energy and connections. A volunteer Major Gifts Committee can boost your chances for success by engaging more brains on the project, and ideally brains with connections! Read How to Attract a Major Gifts Dream Team for ideas on how to pull together a top-notch group of volunteers.

Once these 5 elements are in place, you’ll have the foundation on which to build a successful major gifts program for your organization.

What are your must-haves for starting a major gifts program? Please share them in the Comments box below.

If you'd like proven fundraising tips and ideas delivered every week to your inbox, sign up here. You’ll also receive a free gift, my step-by-step guide, Conquer Your Fear of Asking for Money