It’s Not Too Late to Plan Major Gift Prospect Cultivation

It’s Not Too Late to Plan Major Gift Prospect Cultivation

When you plan your fund development work, you should segment your donors and plan for each segment separately. I’ve written about this before. The basic idea is that many people can fall into one of various “segments” of the total list that share one of various attributes. How many segments you have and where you draw the lines between them will be based on the level of complexity your organization can tolerate and still function.

One of the lines few organizations draw is between current (and former) board members and everyone else. I believe this is a mistake – you should segment your board separately. Board members see the organization from a unique perspective. Their interest and motivation in giving may be very different than that of others in the community. And their giving can get complicated by the sense that they are obligated to give because they’re board members. Making it systematic, predictable, and regular will help everyone get past the discomfort.

Another line is one many organizations draw between so-called “major donors” and everyone else. And again, I believe this is a mistake. Here’s why:

Let’s start with the idea that the word “major” should modify “gift” instead of “donor.” So then the object is a “major gift” and the person is a “major gift donor” or “major gift prospect.”

In this way, anyone is a major gift donor if the gift they give is a major gift – to them. For some, $500 is a major gift. For others, $5,000 is trivial. It will vary donor by donor. A donor is not a major donor simply because they gave $500, or $1,000.

In my opinion, you SHOULD have a donor segment on which you plan to devote individualized attention. I call it my Top 100 List, but it’s really just a list of major gift prospects. Prospects who would make my list are people:

  • To whom I have “access,” meaning that they will return a phone call or an email from me;
  • Whom I have reason to believe my organization is (or could become) one of their most important philanthropic priorities – in other words, they love us!; and
  • Who have the wealth capacity (as far as I can tell) to make some of the largest gifts the organization has received or will receive.

It’s tempting to make past giving the test, and to be fair, many major gift prospects initially come to our attention because they make a large(r) gift –  RESIST.

It’s tempting to make wealth alone the test – RESIST.

Instead make “access” the first test and “capacity” the second. Then start with people inside that Venn intersection.

And then – painstakingly – create a strategic cultivation plan for each prospect. Individual by individual. Turn the whole experience around and look at it from their perspective. What will they see from you, and when? Newsletters, event invitations, personal note, invitation to coffee or lunch to meet the ED – map it all out so you can see the organization through their eyes.

And keep these points in mind:

  • Donors are part of the organization. When you say “we” to a donor, make sure they know you’re overtly including them.
  • Prioritize meeting them in person at least once each year, and more often if you can.
  • Write personal notes longhand.
  • When they do give, even if it’s just a membership renewal, CALL them to say thank you.
  • Ask questions about their interest in the organization, LISTEN to their answers, and remember what you learn.
  • Introduce them to other people, especially leadership, but really everyone in the organization as situations present themselves. This goes double for board members.

Now calendar all the “action steps,” including by whom and by when. Do this NOW for the rest of the year – it’s NOT too late! Then do it again in January for 2017, and every January for every year.

Start with whatever you can handle – ten donors, twenty. Then gradually build until you’re really working with a Top 100 list. You’ll eventually need to bring in everyone on the board. Then increase to 200 and 300.

Before long, you’ll be ready to take on a capital campaign!





Photo credit: Purple Coneflower by David Allen.

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About Comments on this Blog:

Last week’s post, on Writing a Better Fundraising Letter, was an instant success judging from the comments I received.

Thank you! to everyone who left a comment or wrote me an email commenting on the post. Please keep writing – even though I bet you found it a frustrating experience. Here’s the back story:

When I first started the blog, I quickly attracted Russian and Chinese spammers who started commenting the most godawful stuff. “Just set it up so you approve the comments before they’re published,” I was advised. When I began combing through more than 1,000 spam comments each week, looking for the one or two legitimate ones, I just quit looking and sent everything to spam.

Then another advisor told me that it takes several weeks for spammers to catch up with you. If I disallow comments on posts that are more than a month old, I’ll eliminate most of the spam. Boy did that help! Overnight, I went from 1,000 per week to just two or three.

But now, I can’t seem to get back to where I started. All comments automatically go to spam, even the ones I post myself.

So please – keep writing. I will increase the number of times each day that I “approve” comments that I find in spam. And I’ll post myself any emails I get in response to a blog post.

You can email me at:    fundraisinghelp (at) sbcglobal (dot) net

And eventually, I’ll get the rest of it sorted out.


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Fundraiser’s Almanac
Here’s what I’m thinking about for June. What are YOU thinking about?


Getting ready to ask my $250 donors to give $1,000 this year – Donor clubs with a $1,000 or greater threshold represent the most significant source of unrestricted fundraising growth available to most land trusts. Writing letters to donors the old-fashioned way – using pen and paper – takes longer and you’ll get plenty of grumbling about it from Board Directors. Nonetheless, few techniques are more effective. Now – in June – is a great time to start planning it.


Publishing my Annual Report – The most important value for an Annual Report is as a sales piece. Done well, the Annual Report can reinforce the theme you chose back in January and the decisions your members made last year to support your work. It seems obvious, but a little thought given here can make a world of difference.


Sharing Good News with my donors – Now (June) is a good time to find some Good News to share as a specific strategy for advancing donor cultivation. Find something that has recently happened and that hasn’t yet been publicized otherwise. Something that you can share with your donors that they won’t have already heard elsewhere.


Housecleaning – June is a good month to clean up your files and your database – or at least set the clean-up in motion. Last year I wrote about both.

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