How Do I Start a Major Gifts Program?


by Molly Galo, Senior Consultant, HUB Philanthropic Solutions

All nonprofits know they should implement a major gifts program, but often struggle with getting one started. While it takes time and a long-term commitment, it’s actually quite simple if you follow these steps:

First, determine the major gift threshold for your organization. There’s no hard and fast standard amount; you must figure out what makes sense for you. How do you do that?

Begin by looking inward. Ask yourself: what size gift is significant for my organization? What size gift will help us achieve our fundraising goals? Typically, 1% of a goal can be considered significant. If you’re a small organization trying to raise $100,000 in major gifts from individuals in a given year, a $1,000 gift might be significant. However, if your goal is $1,000,000, you’ll certainly want to set your threshold at at least $10,000.

Of course, your major gift threshold must be realistic. Mining your database can help you set your parameters. Who are your top 5-10 individual donors? What is the range of their gifts? If most are giving at least $1,000 without being personally solicited, $5,000 is probably a good threshold to aim for.

Second, use your threshold to help you identify and prioritize the donors with whom you should be spending your time. As a general rule, significant, “major,” gifts don’t come in the mail; rather, they result from cultivation and face-to-face solicitation.  Again, look to your data: identify the individuals who have been contributing gifts of at least $1,000 (or $500, or $5,000 depending your donor base) for the past 2-3 years with little effort on your part. Most likely, there’s capacity beyond the highest regular amount that comes in the mail.

Third, once you’ve identified these consistent donors, develop and implement individualized cultivation plans. These are the individuals who should be front and center in your mind, so look for opportunities to engage them. Do you have an event to which you can invite them? Can you invite them to see your programs in action? Would they enjoy meeting with you, your chief executive, or a board member to learn about the organization’s strategic priorities and to discuss their interests? Don’t forget about simple cultivation touches, too — is there a recent press clipping you can share with them? Or a success story you can tell them about via email or handwritten note?

Of course, this cultivation is building toward solicitation and stewardship. A future post will explore these components of a major gifts program, including building a tangible case for support.  Until then, mine your data, set your threshold, prioritize your prospects, and cultivate relationships! Remember, these are the donors with potential to sustain your organization.


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