How to Cultivate a Major Gift to Your Nonprofit
Face-to-face visits are the best way to secure large contributions to your nonprofit organization. Generally, several contacts must take place before a major donor is ready to make a commitment.
Decide who should ask for the contribution
If possible, the board member or staff person who knows the potential donor should make the visit. If that’s not possible, the visiting team should be made up of two people who are peers of that person — perhaps a board member and the executive director. Be careful not to overwhelm a potential donor. Two or three people are plenty.
Prepare your request
Remember that you’re not asking for something for yourself. You’re inviting the potential donor to belong, to be a part of something worthwhile. Sally forth armed with your case statement, which will remind you of the key points you want to mention.
Break the ice with the potential donor
Open the conversation with easy material. Maybe your kids attend the same school or you’re both baseball fans. Try to use something low key to open the conversation. The key is creating rapport.
Brief small talk can ease the conversation’s start, but don’t waste a potential donor’s time either. Let her know how you became involved in the organization, and then briefly give an overview of its attributes and current situation. Remember to let the potential donor talk, too. Keeping the meeting comfortable for the prospect is critical.
When soliciting gifts, be firm and positive, but not pushy. Pay attention to how the potential donor is responding and step back if you discover he isn’t feeling well or his business has taken a difficult turn.
You also may notice signs of readiness when it’s going well. The potential donor may express interests in attending an event at the nonprofit. He may begin to tell others good things about the agency. He may display pride in his familiarity with the organization.
Time the nonprofit major gift request
Many people don’t believe in asking for a specific contribution at the first meeting. They believe in setting the stage — letting a prospective donor know that a campaign or special program is coming up and that the organization will be seeking her help in the future.
At a second visit they try to get this person to see a program in action or to meet other board members at an informal gathering. The goal is building a relationship, inviting the potential donor to feel as if she wants to belong with the people leading your agency.
When the time is right, make a date for a follow-up visit. Plan a setting where the conversation can be congenial but focused. Don’t rush, but don’t leave without asking. If the answer is disappointing, ask if you can keep in touch. Sometimes contributors come around at a later time.
Determine how much to ask for
Before asking a potential donor for a contribution at one of your follow-up meetings, find out everything you can about the person’s gifts to similar causes. This information helps you to ask for an appropriate amount.
Many people believe that you should ask for an amount that’s somewhat higher than what you expect to get, because making a request for a generous gift is flattering to the donor. However, you don’t want to ask for so much money that the potential donor feels that whatever he gives will be a disappointment.
Thank contributors to your nonprofit
One of the most important parts of your major gift campaign is thanking your contributors. Do it very soon after the pledge is made or the gift is received. If you acknowledge a donor thoughtfully and graciously, and follow up that thank-you note with a newsletter or information about the organization’s accomplishments, you’re strengthening your future relationship with that contributor.