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Skagit Valley Hospital

Major Gifts Best Practices



During the past several weeks, two nonprofits have shared with us some “big wins” with their emerging major gifts programs. One of these groups is a performing arts organization located in a major metropolitan area; the other serves vulnerable children and families across a largely rural state. Despite the differences in their service areas, missions, and sizes, the similarities in these nonprofits’ experiences are striking – and both are proving that best practices are, in fact, the best practices. If you are planning to launch a major gifts program, or if you are struggling with same, or if you are simply humming along, please read on and be inspired by what these groups can teach us by their example.

Fundraising is a team sport: In each case, staff and volunteers are working together for the first time to further develop relationships with prospective donors. This did not come naturally or easily to most of the players and, as with any team sport, clarity around roles and expectations has been an essential ingredient for their success. While many of us struggle over who should take the lead in developing cultivation strategies and initiating contact with major donor prospects, these groups have been successful because key staff members have stepped up to lead the way. By scheduling meetings and then inviting one board member or another to join them, staff members have created specific opportunities for volunteers to try out their ambassadorial roles, get familiar with the cultivation process, and develop more confidence in their ability to influence potential donors.

Challenge and matching gifts can motivate volunteers too: In one case, a major donor offered to match the first year amount of five new five-year pledges in the mid five-figures (this is otherwise known as “the rule of fives!”). The not-so-surprising effect of this matching gift, however, was that it provided a spark to the board to get out and visit with top prospects. Several board members themselves participated in the matching gift opportunity and, in turn, asked others to join them. Without the motivation of the match, it would have been much more challenging for board and staff members to get out the door, give generously, and ask others to invest.

People want to know what you hope they will give: There is a perennial discussion in our field about the pros and cons of asking someone for a specific amount. Yes, I know of examples where a donor was never asked for a gift but unexpectedly committed a gift that was beyond a nonprofit’s wildest dreams. For sophisticated and experienced philanthropists, being asked for an amount can be off-putting. They often convey, “Let me know what your needs are and I’ll let you know what I can do.” However, most of us don’t think of ourselves as “major donors” and appreciate having a sense of what level of gift will really make a difference. Often, we want to know what others are doing and how we’ll be recognized. Of course, this all assumes that you are asking for gifts in person and tailoring your request to what you’ve learned of the prospect’s interests!

If you want to inspire your donors, motivate your volunteers (and staff), and realize greater fundraising results, revisit and dust off these and other best practices in major gifts fundraising. If these two groups are any example, you’ll be pleasantly surprised by donors at all levels stepping up to new levels of support and engagement with your organization.


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About the Author

Kate Roosevelt

Kate Roosevelt CFRE

Executive Vice President

Kate’s clients love her non-nonsense, yet flexible manner. She’ll tell it like it is, but will always go the extra mile to ensure her clients realize their goals.


One Response

  1. Julia Maywald says:


    Thanks for these great reminders. We try to complicate things when we really just need to utilize best practices!


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