September 30, 2014


Turning annual-fund donors into major-gift donors

Wendy McGrady

Wendy McGrady

Your annual fund is doing well. You have donors who contribute year after year, some who've even increased the amount of their gifts.

Now it's time to develop a major-gifts program. But where should you begin looking for the best potential donors? With corporations? Foundations?

The first place to turn is to the people who give consistently to your annual fund.

Last year, corporate giving was only 4 percent of all charitable giving in the U.S., while foundations represented only 13 percent, according to Giving USA 2010.

Yet individuals accounted for 75 percent of all giving. So if you don't look to your annual-fund donors for major gifts, you'll miss out.

But how do you move these people up to major gifts? As with all successful fundraising, this is done through planning and preparation.

First, with the help of your board, identify the annual-fund donors who have the resources to give more.

Second, customize a cultivation plan for each donor that spells out details such as tours, informational meetings with the right board member and staff, and the gift amount you plan to request.

Be sure to consider each donor's specific interests and area of passion for the work you do. For instance, if the donor is also a volunteer, you might ask for a gift that would expand the program to which he donates time.

Third, stick with your plan but allow for some flexibility. This may seem to go without saying, but in some cases patience may be vital, as one nonprofit learned.

A consistent donor was ready to offer the nonprofit a $25,000 gift. After talking with him several times, it was clear he wasn't keen on giving more.

Instead of simply accepting that, we identified a board member who knew him well and drafted a cultivation plan that included personal visits to educate him about the nonprofit's services and finished with a tour.

When scheduling issues caused the plan to take more than a year to execute, the development committee grew impatient, wanting to ask for the gift.

Still, they held off and followed the plan. Once the time was right to request a larger amount, the original $25,000 turned into a $250,000 gift.

Today most major donors consider philanthropy to be an investment in a nonprofit; moving them toward a large gift takes an investment of time and effort on your part.

It's one thing to give $500 to a nonprofit whose staff you don't know. But for the same person to give $5,000, he'll likely want to meet the people involved and find out how his gift will make a difference.

Recently, a nonprofit invited former board members, myself included, to attend a briefing to bring us up to date.

What it turned out to be, however, was a presentation on the group's dire financial situation. Not only that, but the presenter made a crucial mistake. She explained why the organization was desperate - granted, it wasn't the right approach - but she never asked us for a gift.

Compare that to another nonprofit's method. A woman whom I greatly respect made an appointment to visit me at home on behalf of the organization. She explained the need and asked me for double the amount I had been giving. As a result, my gift that year was the largest I'd ever made to the organization.

Remember, too, that your work doesn't end when the major gift is made. In fact, for repeat gifts, the thank-you call and the subsequent stewardship of that donor could be the most important steps of all.

Wendy McGrady is president of the Hampton Roads chapter of the Association of Fundraising Professionals and serves on the editorial review board for Giving USA Foundation. She also vice president of The Curtis Group, a fundraising consulting firm based in Virginia.


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