Major Gifts

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Part of a series on
Major Gifts
Other Articles
1. Major Gifts
2. Find New Major Donors
3. Prospect Research
4. Moves Management
5. Volunteer Led Major Gifts
6. Hosted Dinner
7. Major Gift Books
7. Major Gift Case Studies
7. Major Gift Vendors

Major Gift fundraising refers to large donations that come from individuals in response to personalized solicitations.

How important are major gifts? Roughly 80% of all giving to charity (churches included), comes from individuals. Of this 80%, another 80-90% comes from the top 20% of donors. So major gifts are hugely important.

How Big is a Major Gift?

Major gifts look different depending on the organization. At a small rural parish, a gift of $1,000-10,000 might be considered a major gift. At a major university, major gifts might start a $25,000 and go up to $1 million or more. The primary feature that lumps these gifts all together is the fact that a person was personally asked to give a substantial gift to a mission or ministry.

This kind of fundraising is about the person to person request for funding. If your organization or church has professional development staff, their success depends on asking the right person for the right amount of money at the right time. That means it is all about building relationships.

But you don’t have to be a professional fundraiser to start receiving major gifts. It can be a very natural and organic part of your building relationships with the people in your parish or organization.

Many pastors and non-profit professionals shy away from this kind of fundraising because they don’t feel comfortable asking for a big gift. Yet, he number one reason that people don’t give is because they are never asked. Many of your parishioners will be happy to support the efforts of your parish, you just need a systematic and organized approach to getting them involved.

Major Gifts Simplified

The following is a very simple process for someone who is doing major gifts fundraising for the first time. Major gifts programs get more sophisticated with time.

Where to start?

The first thing you need is a list of people to ask. The people who you want to ask for a major gift are people who are already giving to your parish or organization. The best place to start is with your donor database. Pull a list of the top 30-50 donors over the past three years. This is your first list of potential donors.

There is a misconception that when you’re asking for major gifts you need to think of the richest person that you know and ask them for money. The problem with this is that Mr. Richguy doesn’t necessarily give to the parish. The best people to ask are those who are already making significant financial gifts to the parish.

Get personal

Major gifts always means a personal ask, face-to-face preferably. Honestly, most parishioners won’t turn down an invitation by their priest to lunch or dinner. The same goes for the executive director at a favored non-profit. In fact, many will be honored. This invitation can be done by phone or e-mail, but the more personal the better.

When you manage to sit down with them, the fun really begins. Remember that all giving, especially in the church, comes out of relationships. This is an opportunity for you to get some personal time with your parishioners or supporters. Ask them about their family. Ask them about their spiritual life. This is an opportunity to really pastor in person. As you’re getting to the end of your time together, thank them for their support of the church. Share with them the need that your church or organization is facing.

Then make the ask. My favorite phrase for the ask is, “Do you think you’d be in the position to consider making a gift to support this need?” It’s better if you can make a specific funding request, but if you don’t have any idea of what kind of ask you should be making, then you can start with half of the amount that they have given in the last 12 months. That would be a major gift by any standards, but not outside the realm of possibility for most people.

What next?

Then wait for them to respond. Once you’ve made the official ‘ask’, don’t keep trying to tell them good reasons to give. Give them some space to think about it. This is a big decision, and you want them to make it in such a way that they won’t second guess it down the road. And to be honest, if they are not ABLE to make such a big gift, you don’t want them to feel like you’re trying to pressure them into doing it. Silence will be the hardest part of this meeting, but use your silence productively by praying interiorly to the Holy Spirit for God’s will to be done.

If they tell you yes, praise God! Thank them profusely. This will hopefully be an exciting moment for your donor, don’t try to rush it to a close, or second guess it for them. Let them enjoy the satisfaction of making the decision to give. As you’re leaving the appointment, tell them that you’ll follow-up with them on the way that they will make the gift.

What if they say no?

If they say no, it might be a good time to listen to the reasons and respond sympathetically. If you can hear them saying that the amount is too much or the timing is not right, you can ask them if they’d be more comfortable making a different gift or waiting until a different time. Notice I didn’t say smaller. “Smaller” implies less important, whereas “different” just means different.

If they say, “Let me think about it,” respond affirmatively, and set up a time in the next week or so that you’ll call to follow-up with them.

Remember that the goal at the end of this process is to have a closer relationship with your parishioner, whether or not they are able to give. If you handle this with real charity, the outcome will be positive no matter what.