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4 Steps to Grow Your Major Gifts Program


Forget about shooting in the dark when it comes to your major gifts program. It’s time to systematize how you identify, attract, obtain, and retain major donors so you can consistently grow your major donor pipeline for years to come.

Whether you’re a hyper-local nonprofit or nationally recognized organization, there are four steps to grow your major gifts program:

  1. Deliver an impactful message—consistently
  2. Prime your major donor pipeline
  3. Be bold and specific in your ask
  4. Refine your major donor pipeline

Deliver an impactful message—consistently

There are 1.5 million nonprofits in the United States. How are you going to stand out and generate more donations?

Given the competitive landscape, potential donors need to feel connected to an organization before they donate. To help forge that connection, develop high-quality content and deliver it consistently across all your marketing channels.

Here’s what this looks like in action:

  1. An email newsletter shares the story of how donations impact your community
  2. A series of Facebook posts highlight this impact through photos and video
  3. A direct mail letter provides additional details and further showcases your organization’s impact

The key is starting with an intentional strategy. When the overall mission is crystal clear, your content will work in tandem across each channel, echoing from email to social media to direct mail. And when each channel is doing its part, you’ll convert more prospects into donors and more one-time donors into recurring donors.

Priming your major donor pipeline

Not every donor has the capacity to become a major donor. So how do you know who has potential?

Review your active donor list and identify two key indicators:

  • Donors who made a large first-time gift: Gifts might be $1,000 or $10,000 depending on the size of your organization and your average donation amounts.
  • Recurring donors who sign up for autopay via credit card or ACH: This indicates that they’re committed to continually supporting your organization and its needs.

Once you identify these specific donors, utilize resources like DonorSearch to assess their capacity to give and then step up their communications to provide them with individualized attention.

One easy way to do this is to send a personalized note or pick up the phone to reiterate a recent form of communication, be it an email newsletter, direct mail piece, or social media video. The goal is to complement the current form of communication, not disrupt it. Here’s what this can look like in practice: you have donor who currently receives a regularly scheduled email newsletter from your organization. The next time that they receive the newsletter, personally follow up with them via email or phone with a message like, “I wanted to make sure you saw this great news. Thank you for helping us make all this possible.”

You should also include them in your high impact reports and prospectus packages lists. Those donors who engage are ready for the next step in your major gifts program.

Be bold and specific in your ask

With potential major donors identified and cultivated with individualized attention, it’s time for your big ask to move them up the donor pyramid. Earmark responsive donors and determine a specific ask. Now take a deep breath and bump that number up a bit more!

More often than not, your primed mid-level donors are practically waiting to be asked to give more. They’re strong supporters of your organization, and they typically want to make an even bigger impact. It’s your job as a fundraiser to help them do that. Once you determine your ask amount, prepare for and confidently have that conversation.

Refine your major donor pipeline

As you build out your major donor pipeline, take note of what patterns start to develop. Aside from large first-time gifts and recurring donations, what other indicators are you seeing time and time again? Is there a specific channel that produces more major donors? What about certain demographics? Go back and take fresh stock to refine your system for growing your major gifts program.

Looking for more information?

Check out our Fundraising TLC podcast to hear more major donor strategies from fundraising experts—listen and subscribe here.

And for additional information or assistance with your major gifts program, contact us at

Questions?We’d love to help.

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