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A guide to securing major gifts for small nonprofits

March 28, 2022
A young woman holding a pen and pad of paper, sitting at a table, engaged in a conversation with another young woman, discussing strategies for major gift fundraising for small nonprofits.

For small nonprofit organizations, it’s necessary to be thoughtful and deliberate when determining how to use your limited resources to maximize your fundraising. You might focus on annual giving appeals and fundraising events, since they have the potential to raise lots of funds in a short period of time. Plus, these activities can help you secure major gifts, which can provide the bulk of your nonprofit’s funding.

Major gifts of over $1,000 make up approximately 85% of the average nonprofit’s revenue. As significant drivers of growth and success, it takes time and effort to cultivate these gifts.

Fortunately, developing an effective major gifts program is highly feasible for small nonprofit organizations. You likely already have some prospective major donors on your radar. To help your nonprofit hit the ground running with major gifts, let’s explore three key steps for success.

1. Define what a major gift is for your nonprofit.

While major gifts are often thought of as elusive multi-million dollar contributions, the reality is that there’s no single number that defines a major gift. Depending on your organization, a major gift can range from $1,000 to $10,000 to even $100,000 or more.

To define a major gift for your nonprofit, take a look at your past fundraising data. Identify your top 10 donors and average their contribution amounts to find your average major gift. This will guide you in setting a realistic and achievable major gift goal moving forward.

2. Identify your major donor prospects.

When it comes to securing major gifts, the key to success is identifying the right people to approach with your request. A suitable major donor prospect can be anyone from an existing supporter to philanthropists who’ve given to similar nonprofits in your community. 

One of the most effective ways to find prospective major donors is to analyze your current supporters. Take note of individuals who:

  • Consistently give to your nonprofit over the course of several years
  • Possess real estate and/or stock ownership
  • Have an emotional connection or investment in your purpose
  • Made major gifts to other nonprofits

To fill in any gaps in your existing donor profiles, consider using prospecting tools to get a better idea of which your supporters have an investment in causes like yours and the capacity to make major gifts.

Remember, major gift fundraising relies on strong relationships between your nonprofit and major gift donors. With a smaller major gifts fundraising team, you’ll want to focus on a few key prospects so your team can devote enough time and energy into cultivating deep connections with each individual.

3. Cultivate your major donor prospects.

Once you’ve identified your prospective major donors, research them to learn about their interests and values. Then, plan how you can demonstrate that your nonprofit’s purpose aligns with those interests and values.

Before you solicit them for a major gift, take the time to establish relationships by developing a major donor cultivation plan. Some popular methods include:

  • Arrange a coffee meeting or phone call to explain your nonprofit’s upcoming goals and initiatives.
  • Invite prospects to tour your nonprofit facility for a chance to see your day-to-day work toward your purpose.
  • Host a cultivation event that informs major donor prospects on your organization’s impact.
  • Offer prospects other ways to get involved, such as volunteering or signing up for your nonprofit’s email newsletter.

Inspire major gifts by regularly communicating your nonprofit’s purpose and impact to your supporters. Emphasize each donation’s ability to power your organization’s success and make a positive change in the community. 

It generally takes 12-18 months to reach a point where a major solicitation is the right next step in your donor relationship. By bringing your major donor prospects closer to your cause, you’ll ensure that they are willing and eager to make a contribution when it’s time to ask.

Optimizing major gifts for small nonprofits

Even for small nonprofits, launching a major gift program can be successful and rewarding. You’ll just need to focus your efforts on inspiring supporters and cultivating long-term investment in your purpose.

Remember to always recognize and thank your major donors for their contributions in order to maintain healthy and lasting donor relationships. This includes consistently reporting the impact of their gifts, hosting appreciation events, and spotlighting them on social media. By properly stewarding your major donors, you’ll remind them that they’re key contributors to helping your nonprofit achieve your purpose.

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