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Are you ready for Major Gifts?

August 19, 2013
by Terry Axelrod
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Crowdsourcing, crowd funding, social media fundraising, social media period. I'm still baffled that people think somehow that now that we have the Internet, donors will magically be flocking to their doors with bags full of money.

At a meeting last week with the board members of a behavioral health organization, I was asked again: "Will you help us use the Internet to find potential wealthy donors?" "How can we use wealth screening to target the big donors for our cause?"

Let's flip the tables. When was the last time you responded favorably to an email or phone call trying to engage you in the work of a nonprofit? How many emails are you deleting because you clearly have been identified by some magical algorithm as the perfect donor demographic for that group? Did you just reach for your credit card or PayPal account number and send off $1,000 or more?

You're not the only one who can see through those targeted strategies faster than you can push the delete button.

Now make a quick mental list of the nonprofits you contribute to—not the ones that your friend who is on their board cajoled you into buying an auction item or raffle ticket. Rather, think about those organizations that you have been giving to faithfully, for five years or more. What keeps you giving there? Odds are it's a lot more than a friend on the board. There's something about the mission that resonates deeply with you. You likely are not super interested in a lot of fancy recognition bells and whistles. You don't get all worked up if they spell your name wrong on the thank you letter. It's not about you; it's about their work, right?

It's the donors like you—those old faithfuls who give because they have that deeper connection to the mission—who are the ideal potential major donors.

"Major donor—me? You've got to be kidding!" you might say. Maybe it's not so crazy. What if someone from that organization were to reach out to you personally, inviting you to a small group lunch with the executive director and four or five other donors? And then, over time, they invited you to meet a program director or attend a program event related to your particular interest area? When the end of the year came round, if the appeal letter or (far better) personal phone call from a board member or the executive director requested that you increase your $100 a year gift to $250 or $500 or more, you would likely be much more inclined to say yes.

"Major donor" doesn't have to mean millions of dollars. To most behavioral health groups, having 100-200 donors giving $1,000 or more annually constitutes major gifts. Now imagine that those same donors would pledge to give that $1,000 a year for many years to come—suddenly there's something to bank on, some predictability. Suddenly you'd want to get to know these people even better. You'd want to figure out what other resources they could bring to the table—perhaps advocacy, in-kind gifts, employment opportunities for your clients.

It's building that pipeline of loyal smaller major donors (I'd draw the line at $1,000 for starters) that is the platform for major gifts. So often groups want to jump the gun and rush to the money, prematurely soliciting the wealthy people they see on donor lists or read about, without giving a thought to how to engage these donors in the mission.



Terry Axelrod

CEO, Benevon

Terry Axelrod


Terry Axelrod is founder and CEO of Benevon. She has more than thirty years of experience in the...

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