In my professional career at nonprofits, especially at small, start-up organizations, “major giving” was always talked about with a sense of awe – and, if we’re being honest, often a big dose of fear.
Major giving is put up on a pedestal for organizations – how many times have you said something along the lines of the following?
“We’ll get to major giving when…..”
“If only we had one major gift come in – that could pay for this program”
“I could never ask someone for that much money – we’ll stick to Facebook fundraisers and grants”
But when you really stop to think about it – what IS major giving, anyway? What makes something “major”? Can’t a $25 gift mean a WHOLE LOT to the organization, especially if it is the $25 that helps you reach a campaign goal?
Plus, major giving reduces donors to buckets of “sources of funding”. When we think of major giving, annual giving, etc…you end up signaling to the donor that they are just another cog in your machine. And we can all agree – that is not how anyone wants to feel!
To start – let’s define what should constitute a “major” gift in this new way of thinking.
There is no one set dollar amount that constitutes a major gift. It will always vary from organization to organization (and year to year – and project to project!)
What DOES constitute a major gift is that it is a gift that is meaningful and transformational – both for the organization and the donor.
So what does that mean? The gift is significant enough to create a lasting impact for both parties involved. The organization can use the funds to make a noticeable change in its operations or achievements. And the donor walks away changed, feeling that they made a meaningful difference with the support they provided.
With this idea of “meaningful and transformational” in mind, all of a sudden this type of giving can get a lot less scary. Don’t you want every gift given to your organization to feel meaningful? Don’t you want every donor to walk away feeling like they’ve been able to transform themselves and your organization, even in a small way? I have to guess that your answer to both of those questions is yes (you are in nonprofit work, after all). Once you answer these questions for yourself, your job becomes less “I must ask for X number of gifts over X dollar amount” and more about honing your ability to listen, build mutually beneficial relationships, and understand what it is that ignites passion and purpose in your audience.
Is everyone beating the same drum as they talk about the issue you address? If this is of concern, check out our free Case for Support guide. This step is critical to help you understand what your organization’s opportunities are for accepting meaningful and transformative gifts. Where will donors’ dollars make the most impact? How are you communicating that across your messaging?
Volunteers, event attendees, former participants, and even just those people you know who always ask about your work when they see you. THESE people are your starting point. Not the local celebrities, or the local business that every nonprofit goes to with their sponsorship request. The people who are inherently passionate about your cause are where you must start. The meaningful gifts will follow much more easily this way, I promise!
Invite them to events and keep them clued into what is going on. Call them and ask for advice! Let them know you value their support – whatever form that may take. All the while, you are using these moments of connection to better understand what it is about your mission they are most passionate about supporting.
When the time is right, connecting these natural ambassadors to the opportunities for maximum impact.
Of course, you can go much deeper into how to build these relationships and systematizing your process for identifying these “natural ambassadors” and connecting them to your work. And as you get more experienced in this process, you should aim to go deeper and analyze what is and isn’t working (we value constantly learning here at Banyan, if you haven’t noticed!) But for the lean organization that can only devote a couple of hours a week to this and is just getting started, this is an excellent place to begin.
What specifically do they love about your mission? How do they find you? What type of content or connection do they seem to respond to best? Just breaking this down on paper will help you understand who to be connecting with and how to connect with them.
As it stands today, this may be a list of 5 or a list of 50. But take some time to think through each of these people and what you know about WHY they love your organization. How can you plan to better connect them with your organization’s mission over the next few months? What events, projects, or opportunities will there be to engage with them about the work you do?
Do a deep dive on a spreadsheet that lists every single one of your donations last year that came from individuals. What was the average gift amount? Can you focus on making that average gift amount 10% higher this year? What are some ways you could plan to get there? Spend some time brainstorming and identifying avenues to a 10% increase. Who and how could you ask for a 10% higher donation in the year to come?
Set aside time each week to connect with a few of your organization’s natural ambassadors or new contacts that are interested in engaging further with your work. Whether it’s a quick update, a call to ask for advice, or an invitation of some kind – the consistent connection between these individuals and your organization is essential to building a long term “donor pipeline” (without any intimidating or complex processes to go along with it).
Your organization has wonderful things to offer the world. You, as the fundraiser, get the privilege of teaching the joy that giving brings. And you, as the fundraiser, know that there are donors out there that WANT to help your organization grow. Anytime intimidation or imposter syndrome sneaks in, remember your goal: having every donor walk away feeling like they’ve been able to transform themselves and your organization in some way. If your focus remains on making your relationships meaningful and transformative, the donations will follow naturally.
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