Easy. Fun. Transformative. What’s Not to Love About Major Donor Programs?

Helping hands

You don’t have to reach for the stars--like Oprah Winfrey--to find generous donors. Fundraising coach Paul Jolly says connecting with a good prospect is as easy as ABC:

  • Affluent enough to give the amount you seek
  • Believes in your cause
  • Connected to your organization

Jolly, founder of the consulting firm Jump Start Growth, demystified the sophisticated techniques to reach high-dollar donors at a special program at Foundation Center in Washington, DC in March, "Building a Major Donor Program.”

You know your organization has bragging rights and aspirations for the future. Can you hope to attract major donors? If you have donors or volunteers, willing board members, and stable finances—plus a few dedicated hours each week--the answer is yes.  Here are some tips:

Shift your thinking

Move your fundraising mindset from accomplishing tasks to building relationships. When you have events, think of them as a great way to draw donors closer. Tell them, “Thanks for coming. Great things are happening at this organization. Can we get together in the next couple of weeks and talk about it?”

Give prospective donors a reason to see you face to face

Asking for advice is a good strategy. Saying you want to thank them for support, not so much. But you can turn a “thank you” into a visit by saying, “Thanks for your gift. If you have a few minutes, I would like to hear what motivates your support.” Listen, be curious and follow where that expression of interest leads you. Donors are also more likely to see you if a mutual friend sets up the appointment.

Don’t expect to hear “yes” to every solicitation

It will probably take 9-18 months to get from a name on a list to a solicitation--if you take the time to get to know your prospects. If you are starting a major gifts program, your prospect list should have 25 to 30 names: 7-10 will say no; 7-10 won’t donate until next year or the year after; 10 will say yes. When you hear “no,” see if you can find out why. That could really mean not now. Or not until I know the organization better. Or not until I pay off some other pledges. Or I would be happy to help but not at that level.

Ask for at least $1,000

That’s just $83.33 a month—a comfortable reach for a financially stable donor. Many organizations have giving circles to make the ask easier. It is more comfortable to say, “Would you consider becoming a ‘Friend of X?’” than it is to ask for the money without context.

Paul Jolly’s assignment for the next month

  • Make a single list of your 25-30 prospects.
  • Figure out how to draw each prospect closer—make sure people don’t think you are going to ask for money every time you contact them!
  • Draw up a calendar of the programmatic events, house parties, tours, volunteer days and other opportunities for engaging your supporters.
  • Plan the mix of face-to-face meetings, emails, phone calls and written materials that you will need for your most effective year-end solicitations.

Now it’s your turn.

Barbara Cornell

BARBARA CORNELL is an engagement specialist at the Foundation Center in Washington, DC. She has volunteered at nonprofits in the U.S., Portugal, Italy and Cambodia. Barbara worked for Congressional Quarterly before becoming a staff reporter for daily newspapers. She has been nominated for the Pulitzer Prize by the Kansas City (Mo.) Star and El Nuevo Dia in San Juan, Puerto Rico. She has freelanced for Reuters, Time Magazine and other publications.