3 Key Major Gifts Strategies for 2012

We all want more of those major gifts.

Ahhh . . . major gifts . . . the pot of gold!

And we know that major gifts can make or break our organization’s financial future.

But major gift donors are changing, just like fundraising is changing.

This month my “Fundraising Insiders” members (join us!) are focusing on Trends for 2012.

I’m interviewing Margaret Battistelli, editor of Fundraising Success magazine, (Friday Jan 27) and Kivi Leroux Miller of (Friday Jan 20) on their outlook for 2012.

And next Tuesday Jan 24, I’m discussing my own take on Major Gifts Trends for 2012. I’m pulling a lot from Penelope Burk’s most recent survey of donors that came out last fall.

Here’s a sample of what I’m presenting in my webinar next week:

1. Visit your major donors and show them your organization’s positive results.

I hear this over and over from major donors:  “Is my gift really making an impact?”

And they don’t know how to answer this question.

We all know that major donors are giving much more carefully. They are reading the fine print.

Show a measurable result: How many school kids did you help last year?

They are asking lots and lots of questions. They are getting deeply involved in their favorite organizations.

SO – Invite them to private donor briefings.

Introduce them to people your organization has helped.

Review your budget with a special donor or two.

If you can show your donor measurable results, then you’ll assure them.

And you’ll raise lots more money.

This is what does a “measurable result” looks like:

  • We served 2050 seniors hot meals this month.
  • We built three wells in Africa that cost $10,000 each.
  • We helped 250 former prison inmates transition to a positive new life.
  • We cleaned 3000 miles of streams.

My friends, this is what YOUR fundraising needs to look like this year!

2. Look for unidentified major donors within your donor data base.

I almost fell on the floor when I heard Penelope Burk say, “More donors does not equal more money.”

This goes against everything we know and hold dear in fundraising, doesn’t it? Can’t you just hear your board members saying, “we’ve just got to expand our donor base!”

But think deeper: the cost of acquiring new donors is very very high.

They may be giving $25 a year but they could give a lot more!

In fact, the generally accepted thinking in the business world is that it costs 10 times more to acquire a new customer than it does to get more business from a current customer.

Clearly it costs YOU less to develop a deeper relationship with your current donors than it does to go out and beat the bushes for new supporters!

You can raise more money with fewer donors.

So focus on loving your current donors more.

Show them what their gifts are accomplishing.

Thank them profusely.

Treat them like your friends. Better yet, treat them like family.

Penelope Burk’s research shows that 2-4% of your overall donor base has the capability of making major gifts.

Her research found that if properly thanked and communicated with, these previously small donors would make a gift of $1,000 within a year.

3. Design most of your fundraising for the over 65 age group.

I suggested last year that you should ask your grandmother to read your fundraising appeal letter and get her feedback on it.

Mosts major gifts come from older donors.

One of the direct marketing pundits said recently that fundraising materials were typically designed by edgy 20 and 30 somethings.

And they designed what they personally thought was effective.

And it can be quite off the mark.

All the studies show that most larger gifts come from older people.

This is a no-brainer! They have had time to accumulate wealth, educate their children, and enjoy life.

Trend: Older donors will continue to give most major gifts.

Be sure to design events for them (no late late nights).

Be sure their materials are readable (no tiny type please!) and appealing.

And remember older donors really do enjoy the face to face personal visit!

Now, you may have a cause that is web-based and much more oriented to younger people. In that case, look for an angel or two among your supporters, but also don’t forget your grandmother!

Bottom Line:

Create a major gift plan for 2012. Be creative. Look inside your current donor files for prospects.  Love on all your donors a lot. Tell them what you are accomplishing. Be in front of them a lot.

You’ll be successful if you do!

And if you want to discover more Major Donor Strategies for 2012 (There are really 10 of them!), be sure to join the Fundraising Insiders and my webinar next Tuesday at 2pm ET!

(FYI: Joining the Fundraising Insiders gives you a monthly subscription to all my trainings, webinars, Master Classes with experts, archives of past classes, free workbooks and my Template and Sample Library.)

So do you agree with my major gift strategies for 2012?

Tell me why or why not with a comment!

  • Lorri Greif, CFRE

    I love these ideas, Gail.  Sometimes we don’t see the forest for the trees. Also, if talking with more senior donors is the way, as a planned giving person, I’d like to suggest that “legacy” thinking about planned gifts is not too far off the mark. A planned gift are often the largest gift a donor ever makes

  • ASpringer

    This is great Gail!  One on one talks with big donors, over coffee, is really worthwhile.  Especially if the meeting is NOT an ASK!  Get their opinions on how they are being treated by the organization and how they want to be treated.  Listen to what turns them on in terms of your programs or results, or events, or whatever.  I think that top donors are all very different and if you can tailor your strategy you will have more effective ways of reaching them and knowing what will make them want to give.

    As for legacy giving, may people do not know how very easy it is to make an organization a beneficiary or contingent beneficiary of an IRA!

  • Anonymous

    Yes yes, Lorri! What a great point – the more senior donors are perfect candidates for a Legacy Discussion.

  • Dick Jacquin

    I do agree with your list, but I would like to add one thought… When visiting our donors do not assume they know the WHY of what we do. We are great at explaining the HOW and the WHAT, but if we forget the WHY we forget the passion that drives our organizations. To amplify this thought take a look at Simon Simek’s video on YouTube… it’s to a business audience, but is very, very applicable to donor development….  Check it out –

  • Anonymous

    Hi Dick! Absolutely I agree – we all spend way too much time talking about what we do and not enough talking about WHY we do it! : )

  • Libby V.

    This is a great reminder that most major donors are older. We tend to want to do what’s new and “sexy” (text messaging and other virtual fundraising) while forgetting our audience. I’m always looking for a better major gifts plan guide or template. Do you have one to share? 

  • Anonymous

    Hi Libby! I have my Step-by-Step Guide to Building a Major Gifts Program from the Ground Up Workbook that is available to you as an insider. Go to and sign in.  Go to your Filebox and you’ll see all the Free Workbooks and my Template and Sample Library.

  • Chitwoodjp

    Could never ever ever disagree with you Miz Gail.  Right on target!

  • Whitney

    Hello Gail,  Thank you for all of the fabulous resources!  I registered but I couldn’t find the Ground Up Workbook for building a major gifts program – is it under a different title?

  • Kristina Leroux

    Hi Whitney! I am Gail’s assistant, Kristina. If you are a member of the Fired-Up Insiders program (this is a paid subscription as opposed to the Free Tools subscription), then you can find the workbook, as Gail described above, in your Filebox. It’s called “For Insiders Only – Workbook: Step by Step Guide to Building a Major Gifts Program from the Ground Up.pdf”