There’s a HUGE elephant in the room staring you right in the face. As nonprofiteers, we often focus on the seemingly “attainable” gifts that are less scary than the elephant…major gifts.

But guess what? With the proper expectations, cultivation and approach to making the ask, major gifts are also entirely attainable. Plus, the time and effort you put into making that major gift a success is definitely worth the dollars you can put toward achieving your mission.

Let’s be real, it’s not always going to be butterflies and rainbows. Asking for major gifts can be, well… majorly scary. Let’s stop letting that elephant take up so much room, shall we? These tips can help you alleviate any major confusion going on about those major gifts.

Determine what a major gift means to you

Ah, the arbitrary word “major.” Does $1,000 count as a major gift? What about $100,000? Remember, no two organizations are created equally and shouldn’t be treated as such.

Major gifts extraordinaire Amy Eisenstein has developed a brilliant video series called the Major Gifts Challenge. In that series, Amy touched on the importance of major gifts by saying, “A single major gift can increase your fundraising revenue by 10 percent or more.” Take a minute to let that sink in. One gift. 10 percent of your fundraising revenue or more.

It’s important to remember that determining a major gift at your organization should not be a guessing game. Consider what the “top donors” gave to your organization in the past year. There could be some outliers that you’ll need to eliminate. Also, consider how many of your donors are hitting that “major” amount. If too many are reaching that amount, your sites might not be high enough.

Set expectations early on

You’ve got to come out of the gate with everybody on the same page. Eisenstein pointed out that there is a disconnect between development directors stating their board members won’t help, and board members saying they didn’t know it was part of the job description.

When you’re offering a board position, it should be clear just how much you expect board members to contribute both monetarily and with making asks. Recruit board members that actually want to help with major gift fundraising so you’re all on the same team.

Start with cultivation

Much like we discussed with planned giving, establishing trust takes time. You may have a major gift that is made without much warning or cultivation on your part, but 99 percent of the time that’s not the case. You work hard for your money, and you wouldn’t just throw it away without truly believing in the cause you’re making a significant contribution toward.

If you’re questioning whether or not you feel comfortable making the ask, you haven’t spent enough time cultivating. By the time you’re ready to go for it, you should have a pretty good idea of which way the conversation will go.

Identify traits of a great major gift candidate

There has to be a perfect storm for somebody to make a great candidate for a major gift contribution. Just because somebody has funds doesn’t mean they’re the right fit for your organization. And likewise, just because they love your organization doesn’t mean they can always make a major contribution.

DonorSearch CEO Bill Tedesco suggests asking these questions to get the best possible prospects:

  1. “Have they given to your organization?”
  2. “Have they donated elsewhere?”
  3. “Are they involved in nonprofit work?”
  4. “What real estate do they own?”
  5. “What about their stock ownership?”
  6. “Have they made donations to political campaigns?”
  7. “What are their business affiliations?”

Sometimes, all the signs are there but we like to ignore them. Spend your time cultivating only the most qualified individuals.

Don’t treat the gift as a one-time donation

Sure, it might be a one-time donation. But there are a few things you can do to significantly increase your chances of creating another major gift from the same donor.

It all comes down to showing them the love, the impact their dollars had, and your gratitude. Out of sight, out of mind is too often what happens after a major gift is secured. Give a detailed description and updates with how the funds you secured are positively impacting your organization and don’t be afraid to over-express gratitude.