Think You Have Asked for a Major Gift Donation? Think again.

Time after time, I hear clients say they asked a prospect for a major gift donation. When I ask for details, I hear they:

  • sent a letter — with a handwritten note
  • believe board members are implicitly asked — they give because they know they should
  • saw the person at an event where there was an ask for everyone in the room — and the person gave
  • sent in a form to the foundation — the same thing they do every year
  • sent an email to set up a meeting and the person donated
Think you asked for a major gift donation?

Think you have asked for a major gift donation in one of these ways? Think again.

The only way to actually ask someone for a donation of this type is to have a face-to-face conversation with the person(s) and ask for a specific amount.

In fact, highly successful fundraisers believe that a successful solicitation strategy includes the right people, asking the right prospect, for a major gift of the right amount, for the right project, at the right time, in the right way, and with the right follow up.

Those seven “rights” are one of the basic foundations behind successful fundraising.

Major donors who continue to donate, and increase their donations, do so because they understand their connection to the organization and the impact they have with each gift. When you have an individual conversation, you can tailor the ask to their interests, their impact, and their giving level. You are asking for a specific gift from a specific person for a specific purpose.

Well, then, if you didn’t ask for a major gift, what did you do? Let’s take a closer look at each of the five bulleted scenarios mentioned above…

The Letter. If you send a letter with a handwritten note, you are treating the major gift prospect like the thousands of other donors you mail a letter to each spring and fall. Ok, maybe only 100 got the note. If this is the only way they hear from you, you are making it clear that you are not especially invested in them.

If you met and spoke to them throughout the year, told them how their gift was used, and what you would do if they could increase their gift to $XX,XXX this year (during your conversation — not just in the handwritten note), it is considered an ask.

The Board. Board members do not give because they know they should give. Well, some do. But many feel like they are giving you their time and talent — you can get your funding elsewhere.

But if a board member doesn’t feel you are a good financial investment, why should anyone else? Go for 100% board participation with the Board or Development Committee Chair asking each board member each year.

The Event. An event is usually geared towards raising money for a specific element of your organization. If you want to fundraise for scholarships, but your prospect’s interest is in food insecurity, they will give a smaller gift — but feel like they gave this year.

You think they decreased their giving because they are focusing on something else. But really, it is because you are focusing on something else.

The Foundation. Foundations may state that they only give to preapproved organizations and every donation has to go through the site. But great grant writers know it is still about relationships.

Relationships with the funders — if you can connect with them. Consistent contact with the staff who have previously helped you receive your donation(s). Any contact that can be above and beyond the basic application.

The Pre-emptive Strike. When you send an email to set up an appointment and the prospect sends in a gift, we call it a “pre-emptive strike” — they are assuming that you will be asking them for more money. Or maybe they don’t have time right now and still want to give.

Your job is to break the cycle by engaging with them outside of the ask and stewarding the relationship. This way, when you send an email to set up a meeting, they will look forward to the opportunity to see you and learn what is happening at the nonprofit.

It can feel hard or awkward to make a specific ask for a major gift donation. But if you have built the relationship throughout the year with conversations, updates, and acknowledgments, the face-to-face solicitation should be a natural outcome. 

And remember, if you’re not developing these relationships and asking them, someone else is!