Part 1 in a 3-Part Series for Small Non-Profit Organizations: How Do You Get Started in Major Gifts?

The other day I had a development director call me and tell me how much she enjoyed one of our webinars on value attrition and why reviewing and analyzing data is so important before you start a major gift program.

However, she lamented that because she makes up the entire development team, there was just “no way” she could start a major gift program. “We’re too small of an organization and everything you and Richard talk about is having a caseload of 150 donors to make up a portfolio, so quite honestly I can’t even think about it.”

Over the course of 30 minutes, I had her convinced that, yes, she could start a major gift program, and even though she was just one person doing a “million” other jobs, she too could find the time to be successful at it.

This phone call got me inspired to create a little “mini-series” on how small organizations can be effective at major gifts, even if you are the only one running it! We’re going to discuss how you can get started, how to manage a donor portfolio when you’re pulled in multiple directions, and how you can make the case for hiring your first fundraiser.

How do you get started?

Now, before I start, I must ask:  Do you even have donors?

Believe me, many people have reached out to Richard and me and they tell us they don’t really have any donors and they want to know how to find them.

So, if that is you, our advice is to start with your board of directors: 1) they should be giving to your organization, and 2) they should have connections with people who are interested in your mission like they are. And, if they really are passionate about your mission, they will introduce you to their connections so you can start the conversation with a potential donor. I would also suggest if you have just a handful of donors, to start reaching out to them like you would your board and perhaps ask them to invite their colleagues to a small event to be introduced to your organization. This is how to slowly build momentum at first.

Okay, now assuming you do have donors in your database, I can guarantee that you have major donors in there. You just haven’t found them yet. So, for you to do that, you have to get set up properly. This will take some time, but it’s designed to create a foundation that will help you be successful and save time in the long run.

Here’s what we suggest you do to set -up your program for success:

  1. Assess your data – You need to really understand who you have in your donor file. What are they giving year-over-year? What are your value and donor attrition rates?
  2. Identify your major gifts level – You do not need to wait to have donors giving thousands of dollars to start a major gifts program. Some programs we’ve worked with start at an annual gift of $500 cumulatively. Some may be $250. You do not need to have a bunch of significant gifts to be able to start creating more personal relationships with your donors. To do this, you need to create a report in your database (even if it’s just Excel) that shows you how many donors you have at each cume level of giving, $0-24.99, $25-49.99, $50-$99.99,…$500-$999.99, $1000-$2,499, etc. You get the idea. Once that is completed, you will have a good understanding what level qualifies as a major gift for your organization.
  3. Create buy-in and an understanding of the importance of major gifts – Everyone at your organization should understand the role of the donor and the role of fundraising as you start your program. You will need to partner with anyone doing program, finance, or marketing work as you continue to grow and develop your program. This is critical. Often, when you are on your own in development, the other teams have no clue what you are trying to accomplish. Getting buy-in from everyone at the beginning will help you long term.

This work does take effort, but by putting in the right steps at the very start, you’ll be able to grow and move toward a full-time program that will thrive. And the good news is that, in our experience, smaller organizations often have an easier time getting on board and making a large impact for the organization. So, stay with it.

The next blog will give you the right structure to work within so that no matter how much time you’re able to devote to major gifts, you can always succeed.


Series for Small Non-Profit Organizations: How Do You Get Started in Major Gifts?

  1. So What If You’re Small? (This Post)
  2. How to Make Time for Major Gifts When You’re a Small Shop 
  3. How Do You Make the Case for Hiring Your First Fundraiser?