The top major gift mistakes you may be making (and how to fix them!)

5 people in front of 5 different coloured walls hit their palms to their forehead in a look of realization

I’m a big believer in the power of major gifts for every size of non-profit.

With perseverance, focus and training, you can raise more 5, 6 and even 7-figure gifts even if you don’t have the same resources as large shops.

But there are some common challenges you’ll likely face along the way – and being able to identify these potential pitfalls can help you stay on track to major gift success.

Here are 3 reasons your major gift efforts may be stalling – and my favourite fixes for these common problems.

1. You’re looking for major donors in all the wrong places

There’s a general misconception in fundraising that your next major donor is somewhere “out there” – far away, impossible to reach, and too busy naming the new hospital wing to be bothered with the likes of you.

Here’s the truth: if you’re going to be successful in major gifts, you need to start with those closest to you first.

Even if your donors seem to be giving relatively modest gifts, that’s not necessarily a reflection of their real capacity.

I’ve had the opportunity to review many a database for my clients, and without fail, they all contain very generous donors who could be giving much, MUCH more if they were more deeply engaged with the organization.

If you’re a regular reader, you’ll know I love to share great case studies like this one, when a $50 membership eventually grew into a $7 million donation thanks to the loving care of their team.

These donors are out there – or more accurately, in here, and already supporting your organization!

2. You haven’t properly defined a major gift

It’s not uncommon for an organization to be raising major gifts already, and not really know it.

Often, we’re adopting parameters that have been defined at very large shops, where major gifts can start at $100,000.

That’s simply not a realistic definition of a major gift for the vast majority of organizations out there – and if you accept that major gifts only start when you hit six figures, you are guaranteed to be leaving money on the table.

How do you define a major gift for your organization?

Don’t get too hung up on it. If you’re smaller shop, or an organization new to major gift fundraising, try pulling a list of donors giving gifts of $1,000 and up, and getting started there. If that’s too high, have a look at your average gift, and start looking at those donors giving a higher than average gift.

3. You don’t have the right giving opportunities

Working to raise unrestricted gifts in your major gift program is important for your organization – however, I’ve yet to see a truly successful major gift program built on unrestricted asks alone.

If you’re going to raise big gifts, you need aspirational giving opportunities.

One way I love to start uncovering undiscovered opportunities is to ask the million dollar question.

If a donor called you tomorrow to offer you a $1-million donation, what would you do with it?

This is a great question to bring to the leadership and board table to spark conversation, raise your sights, and get your organization thinking big.

Depending on the size of your shop, and where you are in the development of your fundraising program, your question may be the $10-million question – or maybe it’s the $100,000 question.

What we’re trying to get at is this:

Is your organization ready to receive a transformational gift?

I’ve made all these mistakes in my 20+ year fundraising career – so if you’ve spotted yourself or your organization below in any of the examples above, you’re in good company!

Sometimes the hardest step is spotting exactly where you’re stuck – once you’ve identified where you’re getting hung up in your major gift efforts, you can start taking action.

Emma Lewzey, CFRE is an award-winning fundraiser who has been helping great causes like yours build and grow successful fundraising programs since 1995. She’s the President-Elect of the world’s largest Association of Fundraising Professionals (AFP) Chapter in Toronto, and the National Chair of AFP’s Fellowship in Inclusion and Philanthropy. Contact Emma to book your free discovery session, and find out how you can work together to strategically focus your precious resources on the fundraising initiatives that truly work.

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