Glowing hands.For every prospective client at Veritus we conduct a free major gift assessment. One of the things we look for are people with the potential to be transformational donors. We find them in every file, no matter how large or small. Sometimes we identify one or two; other times we can find 40-50 depending on the size of the file.
In almost every case, the prospective client is surprised to find there are donors in their database that have the possibility of giving high six- or seven-figure gifts.
So the question is, how do you turn the possibility of a six- or seven-figure gift into a reality?
The answer: A targeted, long-term strategy.
This is where it goes south for many non-profits. Why? Because non-profit leaders simply do not have the patience or the discipline to consider cultivating donors over the long term.
As you probably would have guessed, their motto is: “Show me the money, now!”
That attitude is not conducive to transformational giving, as you know. Transformational gifts require a strong relationship built with a donor, along with trust and an assurance that the non-profit actually has a plan to use that gift effectively to make an impact.
In cases where we do see transformational gifts being made, behind it are incredibly strong major gift officers who do not allow leadership to pressure them to chase the money. (Tweet it!) Instead, they have done their research on their donor, taken the time to develop a trust with the donor, and have along the way shown the donor how their current gifts have been making an impact.
Then they have taken it upon themselves to work with the folks in program and finance to prepare the organization for a transformational gift.
One major gift officer comes to mind who had been cultivating and stewarding a particular donor for over 10 years. This donor was a billionaire and, over the years, the MGO had been pressured by the Executive Director to ask for a transformational gift.
But the MGO knew better. Yes, that donor was giving major gifts to the organization each year, but the MGO also knew it wasn’t time yet for that big gift. Over those years, there was quite a bit of tension between the ED and MGO because of this… but the MGO remained steadfast.
Then, when the time was right, when the MGO had worked with program folks and the donor to find the right project and work out how the gift would be used appropriately… the donor made a $50 million gift!
Now, not every transformational gift will be that large or take that long. But the point is that this MGO had a long-term plan. The MGO knew the timing wasn’t right, until it was. It took a massive amount of internal planning and relationship-building to make it all happen.
What can you do right now to find, cultivate and realize a transformational gift?

  1. Identify them — Look for donors that currently give 2 to 3 times more than the average major gift in your file. Cross-reference those folks with any wealth indicator information or research you can do on them that determines whether they have much more capacity. Or take those names to leadership and ask what they know about these donors.
  2. Create a 24-36-strategic month plan — This plan includes identifying the donor’s passion and interests, working with the program to understand their strategic plan and vision, and figuring out a cultivation plan to lead them to that transformational gift.
  3. Continue to solicit for ongoing gifts — This is a mistake some non-profits make. Don’t assume you have to wait 2 or 3 or more years to solicit the donor. It’s rare to take a $10,000 donor and have their next gift turn into a million dollars. But over time, increase the solicitation amount year by year.
  4. Report on impact — There will be no transformational gifts without showing the impact of the donors’ current gifts. Period. If you want a transformational gift, you have to create the infrastructure within your organization to show the donor you are worthy of it. Having the ability to show impact is one part of that.
  5. Engage the donor beyond giving money — Ask them to volunteer, seek their advice, ask them to help your organization solve a problem that they are an expert in. Help your donor fall in love with your mission. Out of that love will come that gift.
  6. Be prepared with a transformational gift plan — This is part of the overall strategic plan for the donor, but this is also a specific plan for how their gift is going to create an impact. It is going to show vision (while also being a detailed work plan) for how their investment is going to be used. This will give the donor assurance that your non-profit can “handle” a transformational gift.

As you can see, this takes an enormous amount of work; but if it’s done properly, it will have a tremendous impact on your organization – and on the donor. The abundance of joy that will be created through your thoughtful planning and patience will be overwhelming.