In the last week, John and I have met with six separate board of directors all looking to solve the same problem. The size of their budgets vary from start-up to over $10 million. They have great missions and people working for them, but the weak link for all of them is fundraising, and in particular, major gifts.
The definition of major gifts depends on your organization, whether it’s $1,000, $5,000 or $25,000. That’s the easy part. Where the problem or opportunity exists is in creating a sustainable program. It doesn’t happen overnight and requires attention to detail. To be successful in asking people for money you have to be prepared. Can you cast the vision and its impact? Can you answer questions regarding your financials? What do you know about the donor? What is the right amount to ask for and the rationale behind it? I had one donor tell me that unless the board has given 100% and the organization has audited financial statements, he won’t consider a gift. Another told me that unless he meets with the Executive he won’t consider a gift, and even then he won’t give more than 10% of their budget. As I’ve written many times, practice in going out and having conversations with donors can help you prepare for major gift asks.
Is your biggest problem the lack of a major gifts program? Does that mean you need another more robust revenue stream which you can count on? There is a reason that some institutions/organizations do so well. They have a core group of major gift donors who are “raving fans” and can bring others to the table. They engage them, recognize them and can answer all their questions.
A major gifts program is one revenue stream in a strategic development plan, but it is an integral part of it. Major gifts, as well as planned gifts, often take time to develop. Starting a program now or even strengthening it will pay great dividends in the years to come.
Lack of money usually points to a challenge somewhere else in the organization. Have you identified what the challenge is and how are you addressing it? Will a major gifts program make a difference (if done well) 10 or 50 years from now?
“Far better it is to dare mighty things, to win glorious triumphs,
even though checkered by failure, than to take rank with those
poor spirits who neither enjoy much nor suffer much, because
they live in the gray twilight that knows not victory nor defeat.”
— THEODORE ROOSEVELT
Written by: Paul D’Alessandro
Founder and Chairman