As a nonprofit fundraising professional, you’re well aware that major gifts are some of the most important components of your organization’s overall fundraising strategy. These gifts make up a significant portion of your annual fundraising revenue, and they don’t just appear at random. It takes careful planning and cultivation to secure a generous donation from one of your major donors.

If your organization isn’t prepared with robust software solutions and technology strategies, you could be missing out on potential major gift opportunities. In this guide, we’ll go over some of the best practices for major giving to help you refresh your organization’s approach to major gift fundraising with some of the most effective nonprofit tech available.

Take this opportunity to either revamp your tech stack or use your current resources to:

  • Research major gift prospects.
  • Track communications with major donor prospects.
  • Cultivate meaningful relationships.
  • Determine the best donation amount to request.
  • Bring on a strategy consultant to optimize your tech stack.

Here at DNL OmniMedia, our nonprofit technology consultants work with organizations every day to refine their data management strategies and update their fundraising techniques. In this line of work, we’ve become familiar with the best practices that help nonprofits secure greater support for their missions. Let’s dive in!

Research major gift prospects.

Many elements of your major gift fundraising strategy will require the use of your nonprofit constituent relationship management (CRM) database. If you have access to a powerful CRM system that maintains information about current and prospective donors, you’re in a good place to kickstart your major gift acquisition strategy.

The first step in the strategy is identifying prospects who exhibit characteristics of a potential major donor. These supporters might be current donors to your nonprofit, friends or family of your current donors, or those who’ve contributed to similar missions. Double the Donation’s major gift guide identifies a few characteristics to look out for, including:

Ability to Give

Ability to give refers to a prospective donor’s financial capacity. This can indicate whether a person has the wealth needed to be able to contribute a major donation to your organization.

To determine a prospect’s ability to give, search for those who exhibit traits such as:

  • Property ownership: If a donor owns major property holdings, this is an indication of their level of wealth.
  • Political giving: Those who give considerable donations to political organizations likely have the capacity to contribute to charitable organizations as well.
  • Stock ownership: Many of your supporters likely hold stock in public companies. You can ask prospects to contribute a securities donation to maximize their contribution to your cause.

These indicators will give your team a good idea of which of your prospects has the capacity to contribute a large donation, but they won’t tell you which are most likely to actually do so. That’s where willingness indicators come into play.

Willingness to Give

Willingness to give refers to indicators that measure whether a particular supporter has an affinity for your cause and a personal connection to your organization. These markers include:

  • Giving history: Donors who have given to your cause in the past are more likely to be willing to do so again.
  • Past gift size: Assess giving trends to determine how much your prospects have donated to your organization, as well other similar causes, in the past. Prospective major donors will likely have made a sizable past donation to a charitable organization, and that indicates that they may be interested in doing so again.
  • Connection to your organization: Individuals who have a positive relationship with your nonprofit are better candidates for major giving. Whether they’ve maintained a close relationship with your cause through the years, contributed their time through volunteering, or been personally helped by your organization in the past, this all indicates that they want to help your organization succeed on a personal level.

The key is to determine which of your supporters exhibit both a capacity for and willingness to give. Then, you can contact these prospects and start building a relationship with them.

Track communications with major donor prospects.

Once you’ve identified your potential major donors, the next step is to use your communication platforms and CRM to launch an outreach campaign that piques their interest and inspires them to give. Your technology will play a key role in not only helping you get in touch with prospects but also helping you stay organized with your outreach cadence.

When cultivating a major gift, you’ll guide prospects through a cadence of interactions and use moves management to carefully track these steps. DNL OmniMedia’s moves management guide defines this as “the process of tracking all moves taken with a donor to more effectively control the stewardship and cultivation of major donors.” These steps include meeting with potential major donors, seeking their feedback for upcoming campaigns, and making a major gift request.

In this stage, it’s critical to avoid the major faux-pas of losing track of what stage each prospect is located in the giving process. For instance, it would be unprofessional to make a major gift request before you’ve taken the time to carefully develop the relationship and secure the prospect’s support.

Use your CRM to maintain an updated log of all communication schedules and a record of past donor communications. Make sure your entire team is on the same page by:

  • Conducting an initial database audit. Ensure you’re starting with a clean dataset to avoid duplicate or inaccurate information that could bog down the process.
  • Developing standard data entry procedures. Train your team on a standardized process for entering information such as names, addresses, and phone numbers so that all of the data is uniformly organized.
  • Creating instructions for which moves need to be tracked. Devise a common procedure for which moves are tracked, who’s in charge of monitoring these moves, and how the information should be added to the system.

These strategies can help ensure you’re using your database to its fullest potential and maintaining accurate information throughout the donor cultivation process. Make sure your fundraising team is trained on these best practices to avoid any missteps in the moves management process.

Cultivate meaningful relationships.

Think of the major gift acquisition process like it’s dating. You want to know more about your major donor prospects, and in turn, they want to learn more about your organization and figure out if they’re interested in getting involved with your mission. Through a series of “dates” — or rather, different communication touchpoints — both sides can determine if they’re interested in maintaining the relationship.

To organize your approach to major gift cultivation, use your technology to:

  • Create a schedule with a month-by-month plan. Develop a calendar or spreadsheet you can share electronically with your fundraising team that includes benchmarks for different stewardship activities. For example, perhaps the first month you’ll plan a face-to-face tour or video conference, then you’ll invite supporters to volunteer with a specific project. Continue with a series of other get-to-know-you activities until your prospect is prepped to receive a major gift ask.
  • Conduct outreach efforts over multiple channels. People say variety is the spice of life, but it’s also the spice of your communication strategy. Sending the same messages on the same platforms to your prospective donors could quickly bore them or worse, annoy them. Ensure you use a variety of platforms, such as phone or video chats, email, texts, and hand-written messages to keep them informed and interested. You can even automate emails or texts to send right after you hold meetings to keep your organization fresh in their minds.

Your prospects will appreciate these thoughtful messages, and they’ll also appreciate not having their inbox flooded with tons of emails from your nonprofit. Just like dating, you need to make sure you use your communication platforms to play it cool, or else you could risk not winning that second date (or, in this case, a major donation to your cause!).

Determine the best donation amount to request.

After you’ve dedicated time and resources to build relationships with your prospective major donors, it’s time to take the next step and make your fundraising ask. You’ve spent time meeting with your prospects, getting to know their interests and motivations, and storing this information in your CRM along the way. You can use this backlog of data to figure out the best way to make your gift request.

This overview of major gift fundraising offers a few different strategies for using your CRM to help make your ask:

  • Anticipate and prepare for your prospect’s questions ahead of time. Since you’ve spent considerable time getting to know this individual, try to predict the questions they might ask so you can have thorough answers. For instance, they may be curious about how they can submit their gift or how your organization will use the money.
  • Prep customized materials for each major donor prospect. Even if you use templates for your major gift asks, you’ll still have enough information to personalize these templates to tailor them to each prospective donor’s preferences.
  • Offer a few different donation options. If a particular prospect has exhibited hesitancy to make a single large donation, you can offer the option to submit many smaller gifts over a longer period. This can provide the flexibility needed to persuade uncertain donors.

Your prospects will appreciate the care and attention you put into personalizing your request to suit their needs and concerns. Plus, if you’ve done a great job developing these relationships, these asks are just a formality since your prospects are already all-in on your mission!

Lastly, remember that this is not the last time your major supporters should hear from you. Create a new communications schedule to ensure you’re thanking your donors properly and continuously engaging with them to keep them in the loop. This will make the process much smoother the next time you reach out to them for another major gift!

Bring on a strategy consultant to optimize your tech stack.

Even if you follow each of these strategies to a T, major gift fundraising is not a simple task. When you’re dealing with a massive database that may or may not be in the best shape, as well as juggling multiple prospects at any given time, your major gift strategy can quickly feel overwhelming.

This is where a nonprofit consultant can help out! There are plenty of organizations that specialize in nonprofit strategy consulting that can help your team make the most of your fundraising technology. Technology consultants offer services such as:

  • Training to get your team up to speed on data input best practices.
  • Creating a campaign strategy to determine the best way to leverage your existing tech stack to complete your goals.
  • Offering customized support that takes into account your organization’s specific needs and the current tools you have available.

As you research consultants, be sure to look for firms that specialize in the software systems you’re already using. This can help you avoid having to add any additional solutions to your toolbox and help you maximize the tech you already have.

Major gift fundraising doesn’t have to be intimidating. With the right strategies and a powerful, well-organized CRM in your pocket, you’ll be able to tackle major gift fundraising effectively to bring on more significant contributors to your mission. If you need help along the way, a strategy consultant can provide the extra expertise you need to push your major gift fundraising to new heights. Happy fundraising!

About Author

Carl Diesing

Carl co-founded DNL OmniMedia in 2006 and has grown the team to accommodate clients with on-going web development projects. Together DNL OmniMedia has worked with over 100 organizations to assist them with accomplishing their online goals. As Managing Director of DNL OmniMedia, Carl works with nonprofits and their technology to foster fundraising, create awareness, cure disease, and solve social issues. Carl lives in the Hudson Valley with his wife Sarah and their two children Charlie and Evelyn.

Share This Post!

Recent Posts


Sign up for a webinar, tune into a podcast, take a course, or access a guide on a vast array of topics including fundraising, board governance, marketing and communications, and much more!

We are renowned for our top-nonprofit lists including the best logos, websites, and degree programs. We also have an ever-expanding blog full of valuable information to help your not-for-profit org reach its potential.