The Fail-Safe Path to Nonprofit Major Gift Fundraising Success

October 27, 2016

NPBlogCarnivalBannerA subscriber recently sent in his draft for a year-end fundraising appeal letter, asking for my feedback.

youre-offering-your-donors-a-rare-and-precious-opportunity-to-change-the-world-1Of course, my first question was, “Who is your audience? Who will be receiving this letter?”

The gentleman, the founder of a newer nonprofit located in the Philadelphia region, sent back a list of names of some of the wealthiest individuals in the region.

Bill Cosby and Will Smith figured rather prominently…

If only major gift fundraising were that easy. News flash: the likelihood of Oprah suddenly discovering your organization and making a million dollar gift is about as likely as you winning the lottery.

There’s no getting around it. Growing your successful individual giving program, including major gifts, is a process, often involving years of cultivation.

So, how will your organization move from here to there?

1. Know who YOUR best donor is.
You may think, as one executive director stated to me recently, that your organization has a mission that “resonates with everyone.” In my vast experience, I’ve never found that to be the case. What we fundraisers often forget is that the “who is so much more important than the what.” The most missed opportunities in our industry lie in failing to understand your donors’ motivations (that and a real failure to grasp permission-based marketing).

2. Create a culture of philanthropy, one that celebrates donors.
When everyone is on board in creating a donor-focused culture, right from the start, not only will your fundraising flow (you’ll be surprised and delighted), but you’ll have happier, healthier staff, volunteers, and board members. Lead the way.  Look to including your board and staff on training so they get a sense of best practices. Regularly question how you are celebrating your donors and their contributions?

3. Understand that major gift fundraising begins and ends with donor retention.

Your new campaign brought in 342 new donors? Hurray! What systems do you have in place to KEEP – and grow – those new donors? Begin with your lowly thank you letter (click here to download your free template).  Make those thank you calls a daily habit (click here to learn why – and how). And yes, if you are looking to grow your individual donors, develop your system of regular communications. Even the small nonprofit with a development department of one can manage 4+ newsletters a year, along with 3-6 appeals, and e-communications (click here to download my 12-Touch Portfolio of donor communication samples).

4. Change your mindset.
You are not begging for dollars. Never begging. You’re offering your donors a rare and precious opportunity to change the world! Embrace it.

This work is not rocket science. It’s not even any great mystery. But you must learn to prioritize, be cognizant of your time, and steer clear of the low ROI activities that make up many development offices (think events, amazon smile, etc.)

Grow your systems for success. In the words of W. Edwards Deming:

It does not happen at once. There is no instant pudding.

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