The Magical World of Major Gifts – A Compact Guide for Nonprofits

Major gifts are the power players in the fundraising world, the backbone that keeps many nonprofits running, and oftentimes, the largest single donation that a nonprofit receives at one time. The monetary definition of a major gift varies from nonprofit to nonprofit. A smaller nonprofit might define a major gift as anything over $500, and…

6 minutes read
The Magical World of Major Gifts – A Compact Guide for Nonprofits

Major gifts are the power players in the fundraising world, the backbone that keeps many nonprofits running, and oftentimes, the largest single donation that a nonprofit receives at one time.

The monetary definition of a major gift varies from nonprofit to nonprofit. A smaller nonprofit might define a major gift as anything over $500, and a larger nonprofit might designate a major gift as anything over $25,000.

In this article, you’ll learn –

  1. Why are Major Gifts Important?
  2. Who is a Major Gifts Officer?
  3. The Major Gifts Fundraising Cycle
  4. 6 Essential Steps to Starting a Major Gifts Program

Why are Major Gifts Important?

major gifts

Major gifts and major donors can be absolutely game-changing for a nonprofit. Let us take a look at why.

1. Major gifts put you “on the map”.

Major gifts make up most of your organization’s total revenue for the year. They enable a nonprofit to fund its programs, and in turn, empower it to positively impact the lives of its many beneficiaries. Unlike before, you can reach out to more people and expand the reach of your efforts.

2. They help you survive in hard times.

Besides planned gifts, major gifts are often the largest gift a nonprofit will receive at any one time. They can be the difference between a nonprofit program surviving, or shutting down. Imagine that your nonprofit regularly receives gifts of around $50 and no more than that. Just a single major gift of $1,000 from one donor is equivalent to 20 of those $50 gifts.

3. The majority of your funds come from major gifts.

On average, studies have revealed that 75% of a nonprofit’s funds come from its major gifts. Major gifts are the backbone of many nonprofit organizations. Therefore, the importance of a nonprofit’s relationships with major donors as well those gifts cannot be understated.

Who is a Major Gifts Officer?

major gift fundraising

Typically, major gifts officers are experienced fundraisers who have backgrounds in broad-based, mid-level, or planned giving fundraising positions.

You’ll need to hire someone who has excellent interpersonal skills, can collaborate with other development officers, and wholeheartedly cares about your nonprofit’s mission. Without their own strong commitment to your nonprofit, a major gifts officer will always fall short in inspiring high-wealth individuals to develop a commitment to your nonprofit themselves.

Major gifts officers will report to the chief development officer or development director in a nonprofit. They should be held responsible for doing everything from identifying major giving prospects, to cultivating and managing relationships with these prospects, setting realistic goals for major giving initiatives, and reporting major giving progress to the board and other higher-level employees.

The Major Gifts Fundraising Cycle

major gift fundraising plan

In order to successfully raise major gifts, it’s important to follow a specific, 4-stage cycle. This cycle will empower your nonprofit to save time and resources by investing in prospects who are actually likely to give.

1. Identification

When identifying great prospects, you’ll be interested in two indicators: wealth (the prospect’s ability to give) and affinity (the prospect’s willingness to give). Some common wealth indicators include real estate ownership, stock ownership, and political giving. For example, a donor who gives more than $2,500 in political campaigns is 14 times more likely to contribute to a nonprofit than those who do not.

Some helpful indicators of affinity include the donor’s past giving to yours or other nonprofits, and whether or not the donor is involved intimately with a nonprofit (e.g. as a board member or volunteer). When evaluating prospects’ wealth and affinity, look not only to your own donor database but to digital prospecting tools that are designed for donor research (e.g. i-wave, WealthEngine, etc.).

This article is an excellent resource for a full list of tips and tricks for identifying and acquiring major donors.

Jay Frost, the president of Frost Fundraising talks about the art of acquiring major donors in the below Donorbox webinar. He explores the strategies to discover the major sources of support, identify them through free/low-cost tools, and finally, build lasting relationships with them. This can be especially helpful for small nonprofits looking to gain major donors for their cause.

2. Cultivation

Donor cultivation is one of the most key parts of the major gifts fundraising process. It allows your fundraising team to get to know donors on a personal level, making a solicitation easier and more targeted to the donor’s specific interests in your organization.

Some key steps for cultivating a prospect or donor include setting up face-to-face interactions, showing the impact of a donor’s gifts, or inviting donors to come on-site for a tour.

3. Solicitation

major gift fundraising plan

Major gift solicitation doesn’t have to be scary! Follow these straightforward steps, and you’ll feel much more confident and comfortable asking for your prospect’s significant support.

Create a targeted ask that reflects what you now know about the prospect’s ability and likelihood to support your organization.

Prepare for the solicitation conversation with your donor well before it happens. This is your time to show the donor that you care about their specific interests as related to your mission.

Bring a case for support that clearly displays the impact that the gift you’re asking for could have.

Finally, have a “next steps” plan in mind. If the donor agrees to give, you may need to give them more information. If they don’t, you need a backup plan.

4. Stewardship

Stewardship is the most important part of sustaining donor loyalty and building trusting donor relationships. Thanking major donors properly means showing them significant attention and appreciation more than once.

For example, you might treat a donor to dinner, give them VIP tickets to special events, invite them on-site or give them “naming rights” (e.g. naming a street if you’re a nonprofit that builds affordable housing for families and individuals). Start a major donor society that organizes your efforts to thank donors properly, and keeps donors incentivized to give regularly.

6 Essential Steps to Starting a Major Gifts Program

major gifts program

Starting a major gifts program from scratch doesn’t have to be overwhelming. Use these steps as a guide to developing a robust major gifts fundraising program that actually works!

Step 1: Get your board and fundraising team on board.

Without buy-in from the major players at your organization, a major gifts fundraising program will never work. A great way to inspire prospects to give at a major level involves meeting the people most involved in your organization – the board, staff, and volunteers.

Developing a major gifts fundraising team may involve training your existing team or recruiting new team members. Don’t be afraid to spend money on the smartest and most experienced fundraisers or major gift officers, as those are the ones that will ultimately win you the largest gifts.

Step 2: Determine what a major gift is to your organization.

Is a major gift any gift of $1,000 or above? $25,000 or above? Do you need to do some restructuring of gift definitions in your fundraising department before seamlessly integrating the concept of major gifts into your fundraising environment?

Ask yourself and your major gifts fundraising team these questions before they set out to do prospect or wealth research.

For example, the below campaign clearly defines what a major gift is to the nonprofit. Potential major donors visiting the page will know exactly what amount they will have to donate to be considered a major donor. This increases the transparency of the major gift process.

major gift fundraising


Step 3: Identify prospects.

With a clear idea of what your major gifts expectation is, you can now start doing the prospect research and wealth screening of potential people in and around your community.

Step 4: Set the goal of your major gifts program.

You have your expectations set, prospects ready. Now you need to decide how much you want to raise through this program and how many prospects you want to approach at a given point in time. Accordingly, you need to deploy your major gifts officers or fundraisers to help you reach this goal.

Step 5: Draft major gifts proposals and cases to make the ask.

what is a major gift

Your appeals should all be personalized, tailored to the prospect’s wealth and willingness to give, must include the prospect’s gift-giving options, and should be aligned with the prospect’s specific interests as they pertain to your nonprofit’s mission.

Step 6: Thank and update your major gifts donors

Sending only a thank-you email may not be enough when it comes to acknowledging your major gifts. Hold a specific event for all your major donors. Take the time to personally connect with each of them and thank them for their major gifts. Share the impact of these gifts during the event as well as send emails with the impact report to each of them.


major gift fundraising

Major gifts fundraising is not only critical to your nonprofit’s ability to succeed, but to its ability to sustain, positively transforming lives, for years to come. Invest in your major gifts officers, prospects, and donors. It’ll change the game for your nonprofit forever.

Donorbox is a powerful fundraising solution that also doubles as a donor management tool. It helps you fundraise through recurring donation forms, crowdfunding, peer-to-peer fundraising, text-to-give, membership campaigns, and more. Know more about us on the website.

For tips and resources on nonprofit management and fundraising, visit our blog.

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Raviraj heads the sales and marketing team at Donorbox. His growth-hacking abilities have helped Donorbox boost fundraising efforts for thousands of nonprofit organizations.

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