Major Gifts

Learn how your organization can identify major gift prospects, ask for major gifts, and cultivate relationships with major gift donors.

What is a major gift?

Major gifts are the power players in the fundraising world. They can change the game for a nonprofit in the best way possible. Whether you work in advancement at a university or development at a museum, if you’re in fundraising, you understand the prominent role major gifts play. They are often the largest single donations that an organization receives.

Because of their relative scarcity yet immense fundraising potential, major gifts are extremely important for nonprofits. The stewardship, solicitation, and cultivation processes are all equally crucial for major gift success. This guide will explain major gifts strategies, highlight major gifts metrics, go through the role of a major gifts officer, and much, much more!

What Constitutes a Major Gift

Major gifts are as they sound. If we want to take the simplify-by-synonyms route, we can define major gifts as big, important donations.

At their core, major gifts are the largest donations an organization receives.

The definition of a major gift is simultaneously easy and difficult to pin down. You just read the pared down, general explanation of the term, but in action, major gifts as a donation type are far more varied.

A major gift at one organization is a mid-level donation at another and so on. A new, small nonprofit might count anything over $2,000 as a major gift, whereas an established, international organization could say anything under $100,000 isn’t a major gift.

You’ll have to look into your own donor pool and gift history to determine what constitutes a major gift at your nonprofit.

Learn more about what constitutes a major gift

Major Gift Strategy

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Have you heard about the 80-20 split? What about the 90-10?

Both splits mentioned are often referenced in conversations about major gifts. They’re popular statistics floating around the nonprofit sector that state that 80% of an organization’s funds come from 20% of their donors (or, 90-10).

The exact statistical percentages fluctuate, but the principle remains constant. You need a major gift fundraising strategy because major gifts are fundraising game-changers. A single major gift can drastically increase the amount of funds your nonprofit receives in a year.

When you start to implement major gift strategies and secure more and more major gifts, your fundraising numbers will climb to previously unimaginable heights.

Check out these tips for developing a major gifts strategy

Major Gifts Officer

Duties of a major gifts officer usually include:

Cultivating relationships with high-quality prospects and donors

Working alongside development staff to secure donations

Cultivating relationships with high-quality prospects and donors

Your major gifts officer is going to lead your major gifts program. In nonprofits without full-blown major giving programs, the major gifts officer still coordinates a similar effort, just on a less comprehensive scale.

Major gifts officers are usually experienced fundraisers who have backgrounds in lower-level major and planned giving positions.

Officers have to be persistent, driven by donor need, and goal-oriented. When you find someone who balances that combination of skill-set, qualifications, and personality characteristics, you’ve found your major gifts officer.

Take a look at some of the most frequently asked questions about major gifts officers

Donor Cultivation Strategy

Major gift donor cultivation strategies  include:

Put a cultivation plan in place

Identify your major gift prospects

Hold meetings and get-togethers

Track all interaction and adjust accordingly

Before you can make an ask and secure a major gift, you have to cultivate a relationship with the donor. The scope of cultivation is defined somewhat differently, depending on whom you ask.

For the purposes of this guide, donor cultivation refers to the process leading up to the ask. Making the ask itself is solicitation. And finally, once a major gift has been donated, you enter the stewardship phase.

After you’ve done the hard work of cultivating a relationship with a major gifts prospect, it’s time to transition to the solicitation phase.

Learn more about these 4 major gift donor cultivation strategies

Soliciting Major Gifts

Major gift solicitation best practices:

Map an outline of how the conversation will go

Show the prospect that you know him or her

Have a specific ask amount and a backup amount in mind

Engage the prospect in a true dialogue

Be ready for the next steps

When it comes down to actually making the ask for a major donation, it can be very intimidating. Asking for money is never easy, but when you’re asking for a large sum, it can be even more difficult.

Even when you’re asking for all the right reasons, the situation can be stressful.

Combat your anxieties and worries with our five secrets to the perfect major gift solicitation.

No two solicitations will be the same, but if you make the right preparations, you’ll feel far better about your chances and your overall ask experience. 

Plus, your donor will be more comfortable giving to your organization if you appear calm, collected, and confident.

Check out the 5 secrets to the perfect major gift solicitation

Writing Major Gifts Proposals

We’ve already covered our secrets to major gift solicitation success. That section was largely focused on in-person asks. Another viable option, as a supplement to your cultivation practices, is making your formal major gift proposal in a letter.

Written major gift proposals are best used following an informational meeting. They draw from the knowledge gained during prior conversations and then get right to the specific major gift proposal.

The best major gift conversion rate comes from face-to-face asks, but if they are not possible due to financial constraints or other circumstances, your organization needs to make sure it makes the most of its proposal letters.

Even if you do go the in-person route, your presentation will require formal, written documentation as a complement.

No matter which situation you find yourself in, you’ll need the tools to write out your major gift proposals.

Read this article to learn more about writing a major gift proposal

Major Gifts Calculator

major gifts calculator

Major gift calculators, or gift charts, are an excellent planning tool for organizations that are mapping out their gift needs for a campaign.

The calculator takes your goal amount and determines how many gifts you’ll have to collect to secure that much funding. It disperses the amount across giving levels and even estimates the number of prospects you’ll need versus the number of gifts you’ll actually secure.

It is by no means a hard and fast rule, but it is a good predictive model of how many major gifts your fundraisers are going to want to target.

As you can expect, the smaller the gift amount, the more gifts of that size you’ll have to acquire. The charts often account for one top gift, a small collection of major gifts, more mid-level donations, and so on, continuing the pattern.

A quick look at your chart will tell you if your fundraising goal is too lofty or just the opposite. Make modifications to your campaign as needed.

Learn more about creating and using a major gifts calculator

Planned Giving & Major Gifts

Similarities between planned gifts and major gifts:

Some of the largest individual donations an organization can receive

WRequire careful cultivation and practiced fundraising techniques to secure

Have similar prospects with corresponding wealth markers & philanthropic tendencies

Major gifts and planned giving share so much fundraising DNA that organizations will often combine the role of the major gifts officer and the planned giving officer into one position.

Why?

At this point in the guide, you know what major giving is, but let’s briefly define planned giving. Planned giving is the allocation of gifts in the present to be given in the future, often through wills.

On the surface, they pair well together. They are even solid candidates for a combined program. Remember though, planned giving donors and major gifts donors are separate entities and should be treated as such. As soon as you blur the line between the two gift types, you start to sacrifice quality leads on both sides.

Learn more about the relationship between planned giving and major gifts

Major Gift Metrics

Major gift metrics to start tracking today:

Asks made

Face-to-face visits per month/quarter/year

Amount raised

Percentage of prospects in each stage of the donor pipeline

We went over this in the definition section of this guide, but it can’t be stressed enough that major gifts are the most game-changing gifts a nonprofit can solicit.

One major gift can be the difference between making and missing your annual fundraising goal. To ensure that miss doesn’t happen, track major gift metrics and constantly seek ways to improve.

Use these four major gifts metrics, in addition to your other fundraising metrics like ROI and social media engagement, to understand the nuances of your organization’s performance and improve any troublesome areas going forward.

Learn more about these 4 major gift metrics