Skip to content
We are now Bonterra

How to write a major gift proposal: The complete guide

June 13, 2021
Three people at a table discuss how to write a major gift proposal.

Your nonprofit organization likely relies on major gifts as a significant source of funding. A major gift proposal has the potential to bring hours of donor cultivation efforts to fruition, including prospect research, data tracking, and relationship-building.

 As a result, your major gift proposals, whether mailed in a letter or delivered in presentation format, have to live up to your prospective donors’ expectations. Read on to learn some best practices to help make your major gift proposals (especially written ones) more successful.

When should you write a major gift proposal?

If you've researched major gift asks, you’ve likely heard that speaking with a prospective donor in person increases your chances of securing the donation, which is true in many cases. Video meetings may also work if the prospect prefers to communicate virtually.

However, there are some situations when a formal proposal letter is the best option. If you have a small team with limited resources and time, writing a major gift proposal will likely be a better strategy than adding solicitation meetings to staff members’ busy schedules. 

6 best practices for writing a major gift proposal

Even if you hold an in-person or virtual presentation, it’s still helpful to understand the best practices for writing a major gift proposal. A written proposal will help guide your ask as you walk through it with the prospect and can serve as a take-home document after the meeting. 

Let’s walk through each best practice in more detail.

1. Personalize your ask

Asking for a major gift is a delicate task because donors will need to consider carefully before making such a significant contribution. Your prospects need specific, individualized solicitations to inspire them to take action. 

When you cultivate a major donor, you spend valuable time with them not only to familiarize them with your organization and its purpose, but also to get to know them. Donors feel valued when you remember the information you learned about them and bring it up in future communications. Use these unique details to make your proposals as personalized as possible.

Open your proposal with a direct address using the donor's preferred name. You should already have this information in your nonprofit CRM. Then, highlight that specific donor’s interests and values throughout the rest of the letter as you make your request.

2. Lead with gratitude

To continue showing the donor that they’re important to your nonprofit, begin the letter by thanking the donor for their past contributions to the causes your organization supports. You’ll want to be specific, genuine, and concise to show your appreciation in a way that donors will be receptive to.

Prospects will be much more receptive to your donation ask if they are first thanked for their past engagement with your organization, as it shows that you value them. However, keep in mind that a qualified major gift prospect has a philanthropic history, even if it isn't with your organization. If a prospect has only engaged with your nonprofit in small ways before, you can instead acknowledge their history of contributions to similar organizations. Show them that their interest in related causes is meaningful before asking them to donate to yours as well.

3. Present your case

This part of the proposal is your chance to demonstrate how your nonprofit’s purpose and your prospect's interests align. It also serves as a transition from discussing past contributions to presenting future opportunities, improving the flow of your writing.

While cultivating donors, your major gift officer has familiarized prospects with your organization and worked to discover how each prospect’s unique interests align with your cause and values. You can use this information to help build your case for their contribution. 

Let’s say your prospect is interested in education and your nonprofit focuses on environmental sustainability. To find a balance between those two causes, you might discuss the presentations your organization gives at local schools to teach students about recycling. Tailor your proposals to each individual prospect to show them where they can support your organization most effectively.

4. Offer multiple giving designations

Major gifts usually come with restrictions, meaning that the donor designates what area of the organization their contribution will go towards, and the nonprofit is required to honor this designation. Even if you’ve found a specific niche that you want a major donor to fill at your nonprofit, your prospects will be more receptive to your ask if you offer a few different giving opportunities rather than telling them exactly what they “should” do with their money.

Choose two or three of your organization’s programs, projects, or initiatives in need of funding that you think the donor might want to support at your organization. Provide a brief description of each giving opportunity and use images and storytelling strategies to engage the prospect emotionally.

5. Make a recommendation

Although you’ve offered a few giving opportunities, you’ll likely want to steer the donor toward the one that would be most beneficial for your organization. At this point in your proposal, you’ll also tell the donor how much money you’d like them to give and how your organization will use it.

Between your prospect research and relationship cultivation, your ask should be well-informed and recommend the best option for the given circumstances. Make your suggestion with confidence and provide the prospect with everything necessary to make their decision.

6. Explain the gift’s impact

To help prospects understand their potential gift’s importance, conclude your letter by focusing on the impact your recommended donation would have. Keep in mind that major gift prospects are genuinely interested in the work your organization is doing and want to be a part of it, so it helps to assure them that their contribution will actively make a difference.

Start this final section by discussing what this particular prospect's donation could hypothetically do for the program or project they’re supporting. Then, provide concrete examples of past situations in which your organization has accomplished goals or created lasting change. Use these success stories to solidify your promise that the contribution you're asking for will help you accomplish your organization’s purpose. 

The impact of quality major gift proposals

Whether you’re writing a major gift proposal to supplement a presentation or using it to make an ask directly, focus on personalization, gratitude, and impact. If major gift prospects receive well-written, specific proposal letters, they’ll be more likely to consider contributing vital funds to your organization.

Ready to Get Started?

  • Nonprofits
  • Digital communications & marketing