Go big or go home: A guide for garnering major donations

While small monetary gifts can fuel the success of your nonprofit, it's important to have some major donors on your side, too. However, the strategies involved with seeking out these contributors, fostering a relationship and asking for donations requires planning and good communication. Follow this guide to making the alliance last:

Who are the major donors?
According to Claire Axelrad of the Clarification.com blog, major donors are contributors who are in the top 20 percent of benefactors for your nonprofit. They give you 80 to 90 percent of the contributions to your philanthropy. 

Building the relationship
Axelrad uses the term "move management" to describe how nonprofit organizations should work with major benefactors. She explains that developing these beneficial relationships is a process. You want to move the donor from awareness, to interest, to involvement, to investment. Every one of these moves should be directed toward the specific donor. Whether that means you invite him or her for a tour of your nonprofit, set up an in-person meeting with the leaders of your organization, or invite the contributor as a VIP guest to your next event, this process is important for getting the donor to become invested in your cause.

The most crucial part of this strategy is to stay consistent. Making moves isn't something to do on a whim. It needs to follow a comprehensive plan that can take months or even years. Your donors want to make careful decisions with their money, so the relationship or donation won't be made in the moment. 

Asking for a major donation
With major benefactors, the stakes are high. It's important to not make anyone feel uncomfortable or ask the contributor for a major donation unexpectedly. Gail Perry of Fired-Up Fundraising suggests asking the donor if he or she is interested in becoming more involved with the organization. Set up a meeting, such as a daytime chat or a dinner, to discuss the donors involvement. 

During the discussion, if the benefactor asks how much is expected of him or her, be honest and tell that person a realistic number. This way, you can report the response back to your management team and your organization can wait until a later date to ask for the contribution if necessary. No one will be uncomfortable or feel pressured, and you effectively maintaining a good relationship with this important donor. If the time is right to ask the big question, offer a variety of options to the benefactors, such as being able to accept donations online or making the contribution in person. 

Things to avoid
Though the bottom line of a major donor relationship is to acquire large contributions for your nonprofit, you don't want to treat the benefactors like ATM machines. Perry warns against diving into the subject of money during the first meeting. This is a red flag for donors who may feel used by your association. Instead, ask them for advice. They have obviously been successful in their own lives, and they could provide some insight for your nonprofit. Not only do you get some unique perspective on management and financial strategy, but you are also making the donors feel important and valued.

Rushing the relationship can also be extremely detrimental. You can keep continuous contact with the contributor, but you shouldn't pressure them to make a donation. Nobody likes the feeling of being backed into a corner. Yes, you may be passionate about your cause and want to do everything it takes to secure that major donation, but being patient will pay off in the end. If the benefactor gives any indication of being distant or uncomfortable, take a step back and rethink your strategy.

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