Major Gifts

The A-ha Moment of Raising Major Gifts

A year ago, I started working with a new client who wanted to dramatically increase their major gifts program – a program that had existed in result of mostly unsolicited donations. We spent 3 to 6 months poring through donor lists, noticing giving patterns, identifying relationship managers, creating individual cultivation strategies and solicitation amounts for each donor.


Time passed and no solicitations were made.


As we were coming up on our deadline for raising major gifts, the CEO of the nonprofit told me that she was disappointed that we were not making our major gifts goal.


This was a tough conversation for a consultant to have. We had clearly outlined the strategy for soliciting each donor including how, how much, when and why. But the CEO had not set the appointments and made the solicitations. I was at a loss on how to approach this conversation.


The good news is that our tough conversation turned into an “a-ha moment” for my CEO client. She admitted that she felt she didn’t have the confidence to ask for a major gift and more importantly – if she asked for a major gift from these individuals she had had a relationship with for years and years, she would ruin the relationship.




The good news is that fundraising is all about relationships! And this CEO has incredible relationships because of her ability to create meaningful relationships with individuals.


As a fundraiser, it is your job to give individuals the opportunity to donate to the organization you represent. Once you have cultivated a meaningful relationship with your potential donor, it is time to “pop the question” or make the solicitation. The solicitation is fueled by the relationship that you have cultivated between the potential donor and the organization.


Let’s get back to my client story because it has a good ending. Once we identified the “road block” that was standing in the way of my CEO asking for major gifts, we were able to talk through it. She shared that she felt she lacked confidence to ask. I shared how her relationships with these individuals is what fuels major gift asks and that her asking for a donation was honoring the relationship she had developed between the individual and the organization. Plus these individuals have capacity and an inclination to give. I argued that they would be insulted if she did not ask.


In the end, the CEO made some pretty big asks and received some pretty big checks. In one meeting, she made her thoughtful solicitation and the donor admitted that they had only planned to give $1,000 (a tiny amount compared to her ask). The wife immediately wrote another $1,000 check to the organization – which means my CEO left with twice as much as the couple intended to give. And the couple agreed to consider the larger solicitation as they were interested in the projects it would fund.


I recently spoke with Chris Weil of The Weil Family Foundation and he shared with me some indicators that an organization is ready to start soliciting major gifts.


  1. The organization has a track record of successfully executing on its stated mission.
  2. The organization has a hard won and loyal group of supporters.
  3. The organization has demonstrated financial responsibility.
  4. The organization has a loyal, hardworking, and enthusiastic board of directors.
  5. The organization can make the case.


I would add one more:

  1. The confidence to make the solicitation. This can be learned and developed in any CEO or Development Officer.


For a the full list of indicators and descriptions – especially in light of a capital campaign and new initiative or program, please read Weil NPO_Expansion_Indicators.

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