major gifts fundraising

Major Gifts Fundraising: The ONLY Way to Grow Nonprofits

For years, I’ve been preaching ways for nonprofit leaders to fundraise without breaking their backs. Anyone who’s ever been stuck in an office 70 hours a week – zombified by caffeine, bloodshot eyes reviewing the 15th grant proposal that month, cringing that the annual fundraising gala will LOSE money because the food bill is 60% higher than last year – knows the struggle. 

Major Gifts Fundraising, among all other nonprofit fundraising tactics, is the most sure-fire way to raise loads of money with the least burden of time and resources. “That’s called ROI,” says this author, who’s made a career developing high-ROI fundraising systems. Major Gifts Fundraising focuses on ROI and a set of highly charged fundraising tactics that “get the most bang for your buck.”

So, dear nonprofit executive, let’s get your life back. In this blog, we explore insights from Chapter 2 of my upcoming book, Re-Imagining Major Gifts: How Major Gifts Ramp-Up Has Changed the Way Charity Does Business.”  

Growing Nonprofits with Major Gifts Fundraising

I always love providing the following rundown of typical fundraising activities and their associated costs. EVERY activity carries a price, whether it’s the staff salary writing grant proposals or overhead planning the event. 

For comparison, it’s easiest to look at this as the cost to raise one dollar, which varies per strategy. The average nonprofit industry costs to raise one dollar (including labor) are:

  • $0.10 via major gifts and capital campaigns
  • $0.20 via grant writing
  • $0.25 via direct mail renewal (with a 50 percent or higher return rate)
  • $0.25 via planned giving
  • $0.50 via fundraising events (not including labor)
  • $1.50 via direct mail acquisition (with a 1 percent or greater return rate)

Although grants have the second-highest ROI rate in my rubric above (of course, just behind Major Gifts Fundraising), they are not a viable way to sustain an organization on their own. Nor are any other siloed fundraising activities. 

Don’t forget about your opportunity costs. Having a staff person spend six months coordinating a special event that nets $40,000 not only eats up a lot of time and resulting costs, but also incurs the cost of what might have been done instead. 

How much might your nonprofit have raised if your development staff had spent six months scheduling appointments and asking for major gifts instead? You can easily raise much more than $40,000 during a one-hour major gifts call than from that stale fundraising event. In fact, you can raise many more six- and seven- figure dollar gifts through individuals than you can from any other form of fundraising. 

Want more proof? Here you go!

5-, 6-, and 7-Figure Donations Via Major Gifts Fundraising

Raising five-, six-, and seven-figure gifts is the dream of every nonprofit leader. Believe it or not, that volume of cash flow exists in spades. That is, if you know how and where to look – and how to tailor asks to individual donor motivations. 

Philanthropy Roundtable says people in the top 1 percent of income distribution provide about a third of all charitable dollars. When it comes to bequests, the wealthiest 1.4 percent of U.S. residents are responsible for 86 percent of giving.

A huge argument for raising six-and seven-figure donations is that it takes fewer people to raise a lot of money, using up less of your time than going after hundreds or thousands of lower-level contributions. MarketSmart also shows that in any major gifts campaign, 10 percent of the donors will give 90 percent of the goal. 

Obviously, having people of wealth in your corner is desirable. 

Major Gifts Fundraising Works for the Nonprofit Sector

Large nonprofits, particularly health- and education-based missions, have asking for game-changing gifts down pat. But most small to mid-sized nonprofits do not know how to identify people of wealth in their community beyond “the usual suspects” – who are likely experiencing donor fatigue from being approached time and again with promises for BIG impact followed by minimal results. 

Smaller organizations also typically struggle with crafting the messaging to woo wealthy benefactors to be interested in their cause, familiar with their organization, and connected with their agency.

That’s why I love the Major Gifts Ramp-Up model. Its tools help busy nonprofit execs like you to identify wealthy individuals, introduce them to the work of your nonprofit community, involve them in your mission, and ask for initial gifts. It then goes beyond the initial gift, coaching you how to ask them for their best gift. It also provides templates to acknowledge donors, validate them, and re-cultivate them for future giving. 

(And it does all this in a spirit of joy and connectedness.)

Followed religiously, Major Gifts Ramp-Up will:

  • Create awareness of your nonprofit in your community among people of means who have an interest in your work.
  • Build the infrastructure your agency needs, preparing your organization to ask for, receive, and manage game-changing gifts.
  • Identify people of wealth in your community.
  • Provide you with the tools you need to cultivate high-net-worth, potential donors so you can make a major gift ask.
  • Teach you how to steward your donors so they give again.

Your goal is to raise the most money in the least amount of time using the least resources. You want to spend most of your time pursuing large donations so that you have less people to ask. Because time is money. And because you deserve to get away every once in a while.

Next Steps

To survive (and thrive), your WELL-ROUNDED nonprofit fundraising strategy must appeal to individual donors who have the power and financial bandwidth to bankroll your mission. You’re an overworked executive or development director with limited time. Your goal is to use your time wisely, that is, spend your hours on those activities that raise the most money in the least amount of time. Your focus, then, should be on major gifts.

To learn more about the Major Gifts Ramp-Up model, attend a Major Gifts Ramp-Up conference.They are held at least monthly. If you’d like a free consultation, there’s no shame in reaching out for help for your nonprofit. Contact me at [email protected]

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