Whenever I attend a fundraising conference there is always at least one major gift seminar about how to find a donor who can give a six or seven figure gift.
In fact, just a couple of weeks ago I was asked to lead a roundtable discussion on “How to Find the Elusive Big Gift.” (I didn’t have control over the title.)
As folks were gathering for the roundtable the energy was high. People were buzzing on the topic because they were looking for the magic bullet – the one thing that would propel their non-profits to a new level.
Once everyone sat down, I had the unfortunate task of beginning the discussion by looking everyone in the eye and saying, “I know you are all here to find the elusive big gift and thinking there is some easy way to do that. But I want you all to know right now, that’s just not going to happen. It’s all about hard work, discipline, patience and persistence. And, if you can remain focused, over time, you will find that gift.”
Well, the buzz and energy that people came into the meeting with quickly left. But to their credit, no one left the room. They hung in there with me. And I then proceeded to tell them this:
“Major gift fundraising is hard work. There is no easy way to do it. I know you’ve heard about the one major gift officer who just happened to meet a donor, a discussion began, and the donor wrote out a check for a million dollars. That is an extremely rare occurrence, but unfortunately many Executive Directors and Development Directors seem to think it happens every day. So they have an unrealistic expectation and that gets handed down to you… where all the pressure sits. Now, let’s talk about how to actually find that big gift.”

  1. Find a pool of donors — Go back four years and find any donor who has given at least $1,000 cumulative in any one of those four years. This is where we find the “pool” from which to fish.
  2. Create a caseload of 150 QUALIFIED donors per full-time MGO — This is the caseload of donors that you will cultivate.
  3. Create a revenue goal for every donor — Yes, every donor.
  4. Create a strategic plan for every donor — Yes, every donor.
  5. Divide your caseload into A, B and C tiers or levels — This is to help you focus your time. 50% of that time is on Tier A.
  6. Work your plan — The plan you created to make your goals is the plan you need to stay diligent with. Your plan is all about creating, building and deepening relationships with donors.
  7. Keep focused — Don’t go off chasing new prospects, organizing events or working on some other projects. STICK to your plan. It’s critical.
  8. Be accountable — You may not like this, but the only way you will stick to the plan is to have someone hold you accountable. Preferably it would be your boss. If this doesn’t happen, have a colleague or a significant other help you. Believe me, Richard and I have found this to be one of the biggest barriers to major gift success.

So after going through these steps with the folks around the table, I said, “Look, if you take this disciplined approach to major gifts, over time, those donors on your qualified caseload will start to show themselves to you. I have story after story of MGOs who never thought they had a ‘big gift’ donor on their caseload. Then they started really working it and “boom,” it began opening up, and those big gifts started to happen!”
The energy started coming back around the table. Now they had a blueprint, a real plan for how to make it happen. And now you do, too. The only thing elusive about the big gift is that you haven’t worked hard enough or smart enough to allow it to present itself to you.
The elusive big gift is right in front of you. Do you have the patience, persistence, focus and discipline to make it happen?