Every time the news starts posting information about mega gifts, boards and executive directors start pounding on the door of development directors. The directive is clear: “we want what they’re having.”

Well, I’ll give you the bad news first. Mega gifts do not typically happen overnight. It is a culmination of months, if not years, of planning, visiting, calling, and yes, lots of effort. One organization I worked at spent seven years cultivating a multi-million dollar gift to lead off their capital campaign. That was seven years after at least a year of planning.

Now for the good news. There are things you can do to get started now. The old adage is true, the tortoise wins the race. With consistent effort ever time, you can start to cultivate, and obtain, major gifts. It may not be the multi-million (or billion) dollar mega gifts, but I am confident that you can find individuals who want to partner with you to make this happen.

Here are 8 steps to help you get started.

1. Fundraising 101. First, you’ll want to learn about trends in charitable giving. Visit www.givingusa.com and http://philanthromax.com/atlas for some general information. Blackbuad USA and Convio and publish stories periodically that can help you stay up to date.

2. Vision / Mission. Revisit your vision. Do you have one? This isn’t about a vision for your organization exactly – it’s a vision for how your community could and should be. Your mission can address how your organization will help that vision come to pass.

3. Case Statement. Your case statement should clearly articulate everything that a donor needs to know before making a decision to giving a large gift to your organization. It should be compelling, visionary, easily read, and packed with information. Here’s a link to my Diigo page with links to lots of samples you can review.

4. Audiences. Next you’ll want to identify the primary audiences you will communicate with. Try to identify those groups of people (and individuals) who identify most with your cause. Don’t try to approach everyone, just target in on a few. If you’re not already following Seth Godin’s blog, I strongly recommend it. He often talks about focusing in our marketing.

5. Awareness. People won’t give to your organization if they don’t know about you. And they won’t give if they don’t know that there’s a need. Social media has expanded the ways we have of getting our message out, but there are many more traditional, proven methods as well. Again, focus in on just a few awareness strategies – don’t try to do them all. Based on who you’re communicating with, select just 3-5 avenues to start with.

6. Asking. This is the one topic that generally leaves most people shaking in their boots. Asking for a gift. Please know, this is not begging. Rather, it is inviting people to participate in a cause that they are already passionate about. It’s about providing a vehicle (your program / your organization) that will help a donor accomplish one of their life goals. Learn about your potential donors and what is important to them. At some point you’re going to have to ask.

7. Develop a Plan. There’s nothing worse than having all the pieces, but not knowing where to get started. Map everything out by month so that you can make tracking easier.

8. Expand Your Team. Don’t try to do all of this on your own. Engage your board and/or develop a fundraising committee. Use your plan to help structure expectations of your volunteers.

This is not a sprint. It is definitely a marathon. And it takes hard work. But, if you commit yourself and start implementing these steps, you will start seeing positive results within a few months. But don’t get discouraged too quickly. The real impact starts to show itself at about the 18-month mark.

Would you like some additional help implementing these 8 steps? Sign up for my newsletter, and you’ll receive access to a sneak peak at the first session of my 8-week Major Gift Training Program.

Kirsten Bullock, CFRE is a consultant, trainer and coach who works with leaders of non-profit organizations and ministries to bring professionalism, excellence and effectiveness to their board and fundraising efforts. She earned her designation as a Certified Fund Raising Executive in 2002. Kirsten is currently serving as president elect of the Association for Fundraising Professionals Greater Louisville Chapter. She is an AFP Master Trainer, compiles ‘Kirsten’s Fundraising Headlines’ Blog, authors the ‘Growing Your Donors’ blog and is a contributor for SOFII (The Showcase of Fundraising Innovation and Inspiration). Kirsten holds a Bachelor’s Degree in Social Work and a Master’s of Business Administration. When not working to equip and empower people in the nonprofit sector, Kirsten sculpts, is attempting to learn to speak Danish and enjoys living in the Highlands in Louisville, Kentucky.

Share and Enjoy:
  • Facebook
  • Twitter
  • Google Bookmarks
  • LinkedIn
  • StumbleUpon
  • del.icio.us
  • Posterous
  • Digg
  • email

Posted on 20 May 2011

Related posts


Subscribe to our monthly newsletter or RSS Feed.



4 Comments For This Post

  1. Seth r g says:

    I greatly appreciate the steps enumerated in the article. Fund raising professionals success lies in effectively communicating the common cause to the right set of donors who share similar passions or whose life-mission would be to work for the betterment of the specific cause. Also credibility is gained to the extent of transparency. I am involved in such an effort of an not-for-profit, charitable organisation called Santhigiri Ashram, India (www.santhigiriashram.org) working in the areas of Holistic Wellness and Healthcare, environment, education, employment generation, revival of traditional industries, water conservation, Rain water harvesting, global warming, and the list goes on. Millions have benefited in the last 4 decades of silent functioning of Santhigiri, but the reach and benefit could have been many fold, with the support from like minded people from all over the globe, as the organisation’s benefits are meant for the world. Reach me for more info and let us try our bit to improve the lots of the underprivileged in the world and also to preserve the world, as we have borrowed it from our ancestors, only with the promise to hand it over to our children in a better condition. Thank you. With Prayers, Seth r g (Windermere, FL)

  2. Seth r g says:

    a very helpful article for the fundraising professionals to keep their focus in tact. Appreciable effort. Thank you

  3. Jessica says:

    I really appreciated step 6. Asking people for money can be difficult, but inviting them to particpate in a cause sounds so much better! I generally use this strategy to recruit volunteers. But I can see how some of the same language can be used to secure funding.

    I also like step 5. I find that social media works best when it supports traditional methods. Do you have a list of your favorite traditional methods for raising awareness?

  4. Kirsten Bullock says:

    Jessica – thanks for your comment! Regarding traditional methods, I’m partial to old fashioned press releases about topics that are timely, relevant and newsworthy. Sometimes this takes a little creativity, but there are typically several opportunities each year that meet these three criteria (for example, large grants that are awarded, recognition that the organization receives, stories about clients being served, etc.)


Leave a Comment

Please keep comments related to this subject of this article. If you have a general comment you may use our guestbook instead or to contact us directly and get a response by email, please use our contact form. By using the form below your comments (but not your email address) will be displayed publicly. Please follow our comments policy or your message will be deleted (no advertisements.)