Don’t Forget the Spouse!


Let’s face it:  major gifts are major decisions.  Your prospects likely are very much like mine.  They reach a decision to make a major gift after a long process of cultivation, thought, and reflection.  This process involves the head and the heart.  Decisions are made based on what the donor thinks about your organization, its leadership, and its mission.  And decisions are made about how the donor feels about the impact of the gift and the good it will do.

In most households, the donor and spouse (or significant other) make major decisions.  So it is important that fundraisers, when appropriate, include the partner in the cultivation and solicitation process.  Here are a few suggestions:

  • Address all correspondence to the prospect and partner
  • Include both in cultivation events
  • Remember the partner’s birthday as you do the prospect’s
  • Solicit the major gift from both of them, remembering to attend to both people with your eyes and ears!
  • Consciously plan your solicitation to engage both the mind and the heart of both people

Does this seem obvious?  You’d be surprised how many times I’ve coached those involved in a solicitation to pay attention to the spouse, only to watch them faun over the prospect while failing to really engage the partner!

On the other hand, I’ve also seen spouses step in and really turn the tide in favor of a major gift.  In one instance, I was told by the donor that “my wife really was the one to convince me” to make a $1 million gift.  On another occasion, we received a $1 million donation that surprised us because it seemed on paper that the donor was more connected to other institutions than to our own.  In this instance, the son of the major prospect (and ultimate donor) told me “my mom was really the one who decided to do this.”

Remember:  major gifts are major decisions.  And major decisions are seldom made by individuals in isolation.  Cultivate your prospects and their spouse or significant other.  You’ll be glad you did.

by: Steven Murphy, Ed.D., Senior Advisor, HUB Philanthropic Solutions


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.