Major Donors Right Under  Your Nose:

Where on earth will you find the money needed to take your ministry to the next level? Chances are, it's all right there in your donor file.  When I ran a non-profit organization, I quickly learned that there were people giving relatively modest gifts on a fairly regular basis who were capable of giving much, much more.  In one case, a donor giving $500 or $1,000 gifts every few months turned out to be one of the wealthiest people in the state with a net worth of more than $60 million! Getting buy-in from such well healed donors takes time and effort, and it requires that you put in place something that most ministries hardly ever think about....A major gifts program.

How To Identify Your Major Donors

Giving history is the key to unlocking the secrets in your donor file.  A rule of thumb in fundraising is that someone giving $1,000 as a single gift is capable of giving $10,000 that same year,  if properly motivated.   Who are your potential major donors?  Find out by searching your data for those giving $1,000 or more in the past 12 months.  Then, study the names.  Google them; ask your staff about them.  What else does this person own or give to?  The clue I uncovered about my $60,000 donor was a series of $10,000 gifts to other non-profits in town.  He was also a member of the United Way's Tocqueville Society, which requires annual giving of $10,000 or more.  You can also pay money for software that will help you look up wealth data on anyone in your file. It is time consuming to research your top donors,  and the software approach is expensive, but remember you are potentially mining for gold.

Intentionally Cultivate Your Top Donors

After researching your top donors, create a plan to build or extend your relationship with them.  This could involve personally inviting them to a behind the scenes look at your ministry, a time when they can be meaningfully engaged and really experience your mission first hand.  Or, you might simply arrange for a breakfast, time for coffee or lunch where you can thank them for their donation and better understand their philanthropic interests.  My lunch taught me that my $60 million net worth donor had a passion for youth.  After building the relationship, I earned the right to solicit and receive a $30,000 gift to our organization for a program that would benefit teenagers.  In major gifts fundraising, it is always best to work within the context of a relationship and to move forward in that relationship through a series of permission-based steps.  Never arm twist, manipulate or ask inappropriately.  Author and speaker Terry Axelrod likens asking too soon or outside of a relationship to trying to harvest unripened fruit.  I like that illustration.  You may never "harvest" again from a branch that has been damaged by all of your tugging and pulling.  Conversely, with proper "ripening" the "fruit" will fall off in your hand. 

Engage Your Board, Staff, Champions & Volunteers

It's impossible to manage more than about 80 major donor relationships in a year, even if you are working full time.  But a good major gifts program involves cultivating probably 300 different donors in any 12-18 month period.  You can accomplish much more if you train your board, staff and volunteers to manage some of your major donor relationships.  And, we can't say enough about "champions."  These are the most engaged, most passionate people giving to your ministry.  Many of them will be major donors themselves.  So much has been written about "peer-to-peer asking" that entire strategies have been built around the idea.  Unleash that power in your organization and you will reap the benefits.

Don't Forget To Replant

After you have solicited your top Annual Fund donors for a major or lifetime gift, then what?  Theoretically, your organization's need for larger gift amounts will continue, but if you do nothing to grow your base of donors, the pool of major donors will begin to dwindle.  This is why the foundation of every major gifts program is an effective donor communications platform. You must raise Annual Fund dollars effectively through the mail in order to attract larger givers, who are the potential major donors of tomorrow. And, you must ask your current major donors to open their networks and introduce you to their friends.  This is the #1 reason for having some sort of regular, standing tour or other experience where donors and potential donors can experience what your organization is all about.  When you cultivate relationships to the point of securing a major gift, after you celebrate your donor and report on the results of their giving, the next step is to meaningfully involve them in your organization by asking them to help introduce you and your cause to their friends. Don't "clear cut the forest" by forgetting this important, "replanting" step.

This Is Hard Work!

You bet it is, but it is also very important work.  You will also be providing a ministry to major donors by allowing them to more meaningfully participate in what God is doing through your organization.  They want their dollars to make a difference. You will be helping to accomplish this important, highly personal goal. Many leaders know they should be devoting up to 30% of their time to cultivating a list of major donors, but just don't feel they can justify that much time.  In every case where I have confronted that challenge, I have helped time-short leaders prioritize their responsibilities to make room for major donor work.  The head of the organization MUST be engaged and must become adroit at raising major gifts if the organization is to thrive.  Others reporting to him will look to the leader as their example, which is why their involvement is critically important.  Advocace helps Christian Ministries with effective development programs, including major gifts.  If you would like to know more, email me here. 






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Jerry Grimes

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Possibly related posts:■Three Secrets To Funding the Future of Radio
■6 Signs You Need Help With Fundraising
■The End or A New Beginning? Funding The Future of Radio

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Re: The Five Faces of No
Really good article. Well articulated and very helpful. (Did you come up with this yourself?) :)

Re: The Five Faces of No
Really good article. Well articulated and very helpful. (Did you come up with this yourself?) :)

Re: The Five Faces of No
Really good article. Well articulated and very helpful. (Did you come up with this yourself?) :)

Re: The End or A New Beginning? Funding The Future of Radio
Excellent post Jerry. I look forward to reading more in the future. 

--Jeff Brown

Re: The End or A New Beginning? Funding The Future of Radio
Excellent post Jerry. I look forward to reading more in the future. 

--Jeff Brown


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About Jerry Grimes

I’ve been involved in the media for over 30 years with experience that spans television, radio and print. But my growing passion over the past decade has become development for non-profit organizations.
I love being a special friend and advisor to dozens of ministry leaders and radio station managers across the country. (I believe Christian radio has only just begun to reach its full potential.)Many non-profit organizations are functioning at a level far below what they could achieve if development were given its proper place in the management process. 

My skill set includes development, marketing, strategic planning and leadership development as a certified Ministry Coach..
Before joining Advocace, I served as a development consultant for another firm, and as General Manager for one of the top Christian music stations in the country, and as Donor Marketing Director for WAY-FM Media Group. I also enjoyed raising funds as Director of Development for the University Of South Carolina School Of Law, as well as an active speaker, writer and facilitator.


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