6 smart fundraising strategies to drive major giving success

August 3, 2023 | Double the Donation
6 smart fundraising strategies to drive major giving success
from our friends at Double the Donation

Major giving strategies play a major role in many nonprofit organizations’ fundraising success.

And the larger your organization, the larger the gifts you can expect to receive⁠—that is, of course, when your team has a plan to cultivate and steward key donors.

Feel like your fundraising team could use a boost? In this guide, we’ll explore six smart strategies to drive major giving success for large nonprofits:

  1. Enlist prospect research to identify major donor prospects.
  2. Establish specific major giving levels and benefits.
  3. Make the most of board members and their networks.
  4. Prioritize corporate philanthropy and workplace giving.
  5. Consider hosting a capital campaign.
  6. Explore legacy and planned giving opportunities.

The Pareto Principle, also known as the 80/20 rule, states that roughly 80% of the effects come from 20% of the causes. When the context is nonprofit fundraising, the “cause” is the donor, and the “effect” is the funds they provide.

The way this idea plays out is that a significant portion of funds (typically upwards of 80%) raised by an organization often comes from a small percentage of the supporter base (less than 20%).

Effective major gift fundraising focuses on cultivating relationships with that 20% of donors, and we’re here to help guide your efforts to maximal success.

1. Enlist prospect research to identify major donor prospects.

Nonprofits often use prospect research to gather and analyze information about potential donors or prospects. Specifically, it allows fundraisers to assess an individual’s capacity to make major gifts⁠—and their inclination to support the organization’s purpose.

This typically pulls information such as:

  • wealth data, which includes financial indicators such as income, assets, property ownership, stock holdings, and more, which can provide insights into a prospect’s capacity to give;
  • employment data like employment history, current position and company, and professional networks, which can shed light on industry connections, workplace giving potential, and more; and
  • giving history, including past contributions to your nonprofit and others, which can reveal an individual’s likelihood to donate and provide a benchmark for expected giving levels.

These insights help organizations tailor their engagement strategies and ensure that your team’s time and resources go to the individuals most likely to contribute significantly⁠—which increases the ROI (return on investment) of your major giving efforts.

2. Establish specific major giving levels and benefits.

Many major giving campaigns involve predetermined giving levels⁠ tied to unique and exclusive benefits that encourage participation. Often, organizations set their giving levels by identifying what they already consider a major donor; setting specific, measurable, attainable, realistic, and time-bound (SMART) goals for how they would like to grow their major donors; and setting parameters from there.

While the perks and parameters can vary greatly from one organization to the next, here’s a sample major donor rubric:

  • Bronze level (e.g., $1,000 – $4,999)
    • Recognition in annual report or website
    • Invitation to exclusive events
    • Subscription to a donor impact newsletter
  • Silver level (e.g., $5,000 – $9,999)
    • All benefits of Bronze, and:
      • Inclusion on donor wall
      • Invitation to VIP experiences
  • Gold level (e.g., $10,000 – $24,999):
    • All benefits of Silver, and:
      • Special recognition at events
      • Private meetings with organizational leadership
  • Platinum level (e.g., $25,000 and above)
    • All benefits of Gold, and:
      • Exclusive access to high-profile events
      • Unique collaboration opportunities

Establishing giving levels can provide a framework for recognizing and stewarding major donors. Plus, it drives increased generosity through social proof (“This amount is what others are contributing, so I will, too,”) and tangible incentives (“If I give $X, I’ll receive this exclusive reward!”)

3. Make the most of board members and their networks.

Your board members can play a crucial role in nonprofit governance and as potential major donors. And their involvement doesn’t need to stop there—they can help your fundraising team uncover major prospects within their own networks and serve as advocates for your cause.

Tapping into the connections in your board of directors is essential for smart major donor fundraising. And, as board members are often selected based on an existing passion for your purpose, they can be some of your greatest assets.

Board members’ financial support also demonstrates their commitment to your cause, which sets an excellent example for other donors.

4. Prioritize corporate philanthropy and workplace giving.

According to Double the Donation statistics, companies donate an average of $20 to $26 billion to nonprofits each year. When you’re looking to solicit major gifts for your organization, you don’t want to overlook corporate giving opportunities.

For one thing, workplace philanthropy offerings open up possibilities for eligible donors to get their gifts matched⁠—which doubles some major gifts and pushes other mid-level contributions into the major giving category.

Additionally, knowing where existing donors work (whether through previous prospect research or using a matching gift tool integrated into your fundraising platform) can help uncover potential for broader corporate partnerships as well. For example, if you see that a great number of your supporters work for Microsoft, you may decide to reach out to the company⁠—or enlist a corporate donor to advocate on your behalf⁠—to pitch a direct sponsorship opportunity, which allows your organization to raise more for your mission and offers the company and its employees a way to give back to their community.

This kind of corporate relationship, when managed well, can produce significant financial support, increased visibility, and mutually beneficial outcomes.

5. Consider hosting a capital campaign.

A capital campaign is a fundraising effort that aims to collect significant revenue, or capital, for a key initiative. This is is often something tangible or material, like a new building, renovation project, or equipment purchase⁠, and it’s often primarily funded through major gifts.

Hosting a capital campaign for your organization, when relevant, can be an excellent way to engage major supporters above and beyond your standard annual fundraising efforts. That said, this kind of campaign is a meaningful undertaking, and before diving in, it’s important to ensure that your organization has the large-dollar support to back your efforts.

Typically, organizations should begin with a feasibility study that gathers input from key stakeholders, such as major donors, to gauge their willingness to support the campaign. If it’s a go, you’ll enter the private phase of your capital campaign, which is generally where your major donor engagement comes in. All the techniques and best practices that have helped your organization succeed at other fundraising campaigns can also support you here: sending out regular updates to donors, in the channels where you know they’re most responsive; keeping track of all your campaign progress data in one centralized location; and regularly showing gratitude to your generous donors are just three tactics that can help you succeed at this fundraising strategy.

6. Explore legacy and planned giving opportunities.

Legacy and planned giving present a significant opportunity for major donors to provide financial support at a future date and typically include:

  • bequests, or gifts made through a will or estate plan that will be given to a nonprofit upon the donor’s passing,
  • charitable trusts, or legal arrangements that designate a trust’s remaining assets to be given to a nonprofit at its termination,
  • endowment funds, or invested assets with the purpose of generating income to support a nonprofit in the long term,
  • retirement account designations, or nonprofit designation as a beneficiary of a retirement account, such as an IRA or 401(k) plan, and/or
  • life insurance policies, or nonprofit designation as a beneficiary of a life insurance policy.

These gifts don’t just empower supporters with unique opportunities to leave a lasting impact, they also empower donors’ favorite nonprofit organizations to continue advancing their missions and making a difference beyond their lifetimes.

Since legacy and planned gifts can be a more technical type of support, it’s often beneficial to share educational materials on the topic, provide access to or recommend donors consult with financial advisors, and conduct personalized discussions on their options.

Final thoughts

Major giving plays a pivotal role in nonprofit fundraising efforts, and implementing smart engagement strategies tailored to driving major giving success can go a long way. From personalized solicitation efforts and effective stewardship to leveraging best-in-class technology and data-driven insights, think of these strategies as your roadmap for optimal major giving success!

Want to learn more about major giving? Check out this expert workshop from EveryAction, which is part of Bonterra, about streamlining and simplifying major giving. Then, learn more about how corporate gift matching can support a strong, diversified nonprofit fundraising strategy!