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6 tips for a more dynamic major donor solicitation strategy

April 19, 2022
Colleagues standing in a small group discussing something while working at an office.

If you ask seasoned nonprofit professionals how to solicit major donors, you’ll probably hear one recommendation again and again: prepare. Your nonprofit organization needs to spend time forming personal connections with donors, outlining a simple yet engaging pitch, and developing a stewardship plan. Taking the time to prepare for what can be a high-stakes conversation will help you put together an effective fundraising pitch. 

In this guide, we’ll discuss six strategies to improve your major donor solicitation:

  1. Build relationships with donors.
  2. Keep your pitch simple.
  3. Make your ask engaging.
  4. Bring key players.
  5. Put all numbers on the table.
  6. Steward donor relationships.

As you prepare your pitch, prioritize creating a dynamic presentation that will appeal to your donors. Let’s get started by discussing how you can cultivate strong donor relationships.

1. Build relationships with donors

When planning your major donor outreach, go beyond a “cold” ask. Your major gift proposal is much more likely to get noticed if you’ve already familiarized your prospect with your organization’s project and purpose.  Leverage your in-person ask with preparatory cultivation that puts your prospect in the right frame of mind to donate.

Before asking for a major gift, engage with your new donor multiple times and in multiple ways. Build a relationship by inviting them to events, scheduling one-on-one visits, and sending thank-you emails. Offering them your time and energy lays the groundwork for a reciprocal relationship when you make your ask.

To build this foundation, create a reciprocity plan (a year-long individual engagement agenda with multiple interactions). Here are a few ideas:

  • Offer relevant volunteer opportunities. As a volunteer, the prospect can see your organization’s on-the-ground impact for themselves. Tailor these opportunities to each donor’s interests and talents. 
  • Introduce donors to your staff. Give donors the opportunity to get acquainted with folks within your organization. This enriches their engagement with you and makes them feel like part of the team. Plus, staff turnover won’t reset your donor relationship if they have multiple connections with your organization.
  • Provide connections. Connect prospects to others who are passionate about your cause to create networking and socialization opportunities. Committee engagement is also a great testing ground and pathway to board involvement.
  • Meet one-to-one. Use these meetings to ask questions that draw prospects out of their shell and help you learn more about them.

Schedule these interactions regularly with your donors to keep your nonprofit and its purpose at the top of their minds.

2. Keep your pitch simple

Your donors often have limited time and attention to dedicate to your fundraising pitch. Thus, it’s important to clearly communicate your ask within whatever timeframe you’re given. If it takes you more than a couple of sentences to explain your giving opportunity, trim your pitch down to maximize your results.

Practice delivering your key points using direct language. Keep your pitch free of jargon and technical terms so anyone can understand it. To make sure your pitch is digestible to donors who may not be experts in your cause, practice pitching to someone who doesn’t work at your organization. You can also run it through an online readability calculator to identify specific areas for improvement like simplifying words or shortening sentences.

3. Make your ask engaging

Human beings are wired to respond emotionally to stories. To get prospects listening, reframe your ask into a story.

In your story, there should be two protagonists: your beneficiary and your donor. Your beneficiary encounters all sorts of trials that your donor can help them overcome.

To tell your story, try following this basic structure: 

  1. “Once upon a time…” Introduce the current situation or problem your beneficiary is facing.
  2. “There was a young girl who lived…” Introduce the beneficiary.
  3. “She faced many challenges…” Outline the emotionally-charged issues.
  4. “Until one day…” Introduce your solution and how the donor can help create a more positive outcome. 

Remember that the best way to get someone to listen is to be passionate. Passion is contagious and can be conveyed through your story with compelling descriptions and evocative language.

4. Include key players

When making a face-to-face solicitation, enlist the people at your organization that your prospect will respect or relate to the most.

There are two types of key players when it comes to making a fundraising ask:

  • The “hard to say no to” person. This is someone the donor perceives as important, authoritative, credible, and friendly. This responsible figure assures the donor that their gift will be used for what it’s intended for.
  • The “best relationship” person. This person could be the executive director, board president, or anyone at your organization that the donor will like and want to speak with. They’re more likely to form a relationship with someone they’re comfortable with.

Key players can make your pitch stronger, but avoid bringing so many people that you overwhelm your donor. Decide who will make the ask before your meeting.

5. Put all numbers on the table

Transparency is important, and major donors want to know their gift is critical to your organization’s success. This doesn’t mean you should load the pitch with statistics and pie charts, but it does mean you should have clear answers to any questions about your proposal. 

Craft answers to these key questions in advance: 

  • How much will the total project cost? 
  • How many beneficiaries will it help? 
  • Specifically, how will the donor’s gift be allocated? 
  • Who will be responsible for the project’s outcomes? 
  • What will happen if you don’t raise enough? 
  • How do you know this will be successful?

While donors could pose additional questions, preparing for these few will make you appear knowledgeable and confident during the donor solicitation process. 

6. Steward donor relationships

Your goal is to help your donors feel good about their philanthropic investment long after committing to it. Be ready to acknowledge their gift promptly and report on its impact.

Create your stewardship plan in advance. Use your database to track your supporters’ engagement and understand why they give. If you notice engagement diminishing, set up new stewardship touchpoints to reconnect with them. 

Engagement metrics to track include:

  • Events attended
  • Volunteer activities
  • Blog opens
  • Email opens or forwards to personal network
  • Social media activity
  • Website visits
  • Inbound interactions like calls or in-person visits

Track any trends in donor communication preferences alongside these metrics. If a prospect answers every call but rarely interacts with emails, you can adjust your approach for more effective communication.

Successfully soliciting donors is easy with proper preparation. Wherever you are in the process, from introduction to commitment to fulfillment, keep practicing, promoting, and building your relationships with each donor. Remember that passion (yours and theirs) is what engages and secures lasting commitment.

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