1. Write a plan: What are the organization’s goals for the year, and what will it cost to fund them? How much $ do you have to invest in your major gift program, and what ROI do you need to deliver? Who will be responsible for managing the program, cultivating donor relationships, making the ask, tracking progress, etc.? What else do you need in order to be successful in 2015?
2. Get management buy-in: To succeed, you’ll need the full support of your Executive Director, your Board, and senior management across the organization. You don’t just want them to buy-in verbally. You want them to “put skin in the game” in the form of agreeing to a specific funding level, committing to help you cultivate relationships, participate in stewardship efforts, and even to helping you make asks.
3. Build a donor prospect list: Who are your best potential major donors? Create a list of those people who are loyal, consistent supporters and who have shown by their previous behavior that they have capacity to make large(r) gifts. If you have wealth screen data or donor research, that’s even better. But don’t wait for that information. The info in your database is a good enough place to begin. Sort your prospects by Most Recent Contribution (MRC), Total Annual Giving (in last calendar year), Highest Previous Contribution (HPC), and Total # of Gifts. Use that to rank order your donors from highest to lowest.
4. Create your funding needs list and cost estimates: In your plan you outlined what the organization’s priorities are for the year, and what those cost. Now it’s time to put more definition around each of those areas, and greater specificity around the costs. Use that information to create mini case statements (don’t waste your time creating entire case booklets — a single page per case is just fine). This will give you the information you need to help your donors understand each of the philanthropic funding opportunities available.
5. Qualify donors and cultivate relationships: Start making calls! The goal is to begin talking with donors, understanding more about why they support your organization, what their philanthropic priorities are, and how your organization fits into those. It also allows you to build deeper relationships with your donors, better understand them, and identify opportunities for them to make greater investments in your cause . As you work your way through your donor list, re-prioritize donors based on how engaged they are/want to be, and whether or not they actually have capacity and interest to increase their investment in your cause.
6. Ask: All the planning in the world won’t make you successful if you never get out from behind your desk and ask for the gift. It’s easiest if you’re well prepared. What’s your donor most passionate about? Who will she want in the room for your meeting, and what role will each person play? What is the likely level she’d be comfortable investing? How does she want to be asked? What kind of stewardship/recognition does she desire?
7. Say thank you: Say it immediately, whether your donor makes a commitment or not. Then say it again in writing within 24-48 hours. Seek out opportunities to thank your donor another 4-6 times over the coming weeks and months in ways that are meaningful to her.
8. Report back: There’s no better way to prove to your donors that you care about them (and not just their $) than to show them the impact of their giving. You can do this through newsletter articles, special impact mailings or emails, site visits and tours, videos from the field, etc.
If you’ve launced a great major gift program before, what other tips would you recommend?