8 Steps to a Successful Major Gifts Program

Every time the news starts posting information about mega gifts, boards and executive directors start pounding on the door of development directors. The directive is clear: “we want what they’re having.”

Well, I’ll give you the bad news first. Mega gifts do not typically happen overnight. It is a culmination of months, if not years, of planning, visiting, calling, and yes, lots of effort. One organization I worked at spent seven years cultivating a multi-million dollar gift to lead off their capital campaign. That was seven years after at least a year of planning.

Now for the good news. There are things you can do to get started now. The old adage is true, the tortoise wins the race. With consistent effort ever time, you can start to cultivate, and obtain, major gifts. It may not be the multi-million (or billion) dollar mega gifts, but I am confident that you can find individuals who want to partner with you to make this happen.

Here are 8 steps to help you get started.

  1. Fundraising 101. First, you’ll want to learn about trends in charitable giving. Visit for some general information. Blackbuad USA and Convio and publish stories periodically that can help you stay up to date.
  2. Vision / Mission. Revisit your vision. Do you have one? This isn’t about a vision for your organization exactly – it’s a vision for how your community could and should be. Your mission can address how your organization will help that vision come to pass.
  3. Case Statement. Your case statement should clearly articulate everything that a donor needs to know before making a decision to giving a large gift to your organization. It should be compelling, visionary, easily read, and packed with information. Here’s a link to my Diigo page with links to lots of samples you can review.
  4. Audiences. Next you’ll want to identify the primary audiences you will communicate with. Try to identify those groups of people (and individuals) who identify most with your cause. Don’t try to approach everyone, just target in on a few. If you’re not already following Seth Godin’s blog, I strongly recommend it. He often talks about focusing in our marketing.
  5. Awareness. People won’t give to your organization if they don’t know about you. And they won’t give if they don’t know that there’s a need. Social media has expanded the ways we have of getting our message out, but there are many more traditional, proven methods as well. Again, focus in on just a few awareness strategies – don’t try to do them all. Based on who you’re communicating with, select just 3-5 avenues to start with.
  6. Asking. This is the one topic that generally leaves most people shaking in their boots. Asking for a gift. Please know, this is not begging. Rather, it is inviting people to participate in a cause that they are already passionate about. It’s about providing a vehicle (your program / your organization) that will help a donor accomplish one of their life goals. Learn about your potential donors and what is important to them. At some point you’re going to have to ask.
  7. Develop a Plan. There’s nothing worse than having all the pieces, but not knowing where to get started. Map everything out by month so that you can make tracking easier.
  8. Expand Your Team. Don’t try to do all of this on your own. Engage your board and/or develop a fundraising committee. Use your plan to help structure expectations of your volunteers.

This is not a sprint. It is definitely a marathon. And it takes hard work. But, if you commit yourself and start implementing these steps, you will start seeing positive results within a few months. But don’t get discouraged too quickly. The real impact starts to show itself at about the 18-month mark.

Would you like some additional help implementing these 8 steps? Sign up for my newsletter, and you’ll receive access to a sneak peak at the first session of my 8-week Major Gift Training Program.


8 Steps to a Successful Major Gifts Program — 6 Comments

  1. Kirsten, as a grant writing consultant I couldn’t help but giggle. If I had a dollar for everytime someone suggested I contact the Ophrah Winfrey or Bill Gates Foundation for big money grants…They seem to think that you just ask and then it magically appears. Yes, it does take an ask but it requires these 8 steps that you outline. Thanks for the step-by-step instructions. 🙂

    • Thanks Betsy for your comment. We’re magicians right? Now I have to giggle. I used to give magic shows for my little community when I was about 7 years old. Guess I had those aspirations from early on!

  2. Kirsten,
    Thank you for sharing the steps in such a straightforward way. We’ve all shared the experience of clients or colleagues who expected to be able to jump past the careful work of developing our donors… why we call it fund development, right?

    • It does take time – unfortunately there are many organizations who wait until finances get to a critical stage. You’re so right – development is a very appropriate term.

  3. Kristen, I love the list format and you’ve packed it with good info. #7 resinates with me. Not only does having a plan keep you focused but it helps respond with those knocks come to your door. Can you imagine using each mega-gift encounter to energize your organization and reflect on the plan that you have?