A Roadmap to Major Gifts Success

George C. Ruotolo, Jr., Chairman & CEO

George C. Ruotolo, Jr., Chairman & CEO

by George C. Ruotolo, Jr., CFRE
Chairman and CEO
Excerpted from May/June 2012 issue of NCDC Dimensions Magazine

Major gifts campaigns are more important now than ever before.  During a recent conversation with a foundation executive, he observed that the 90/10 principle of fundraising (90 percent of funds come from 10 percent of participating donors) has evolved into a 95/5 ratio.  In a nutshell, major gift fundraising is an integral component of a fundraising program, and your efforts in this area must be thoughtful, strategic and deliberate.

Yet, we often find that organizations are not adhering to the best practices necessary for a successful major gift campaign.  Too often, major gift work gets lost in the shuffle of the day-to-day tasks of running a development office, looming grant deadlines and planning special events.  If that is the case in your organization, take a few moments to read the following, a brief “refresher course” on the key components of a successful major gifts program.

Major Gift Fundraising 101
The Board’s leadership and financial support are key to the ultimate success of a major gifts effort.  It is recommended that the Board’s development committee direct its energy and attention to approving the major gifts plan and participating in the process as volunteers…the role of the administration, Board, other volunteers and staff should also be specified.  Fundraising counsel may have a role in helping set direction and moving the major gifts campaign forward.

The needs of the institution will drive the major gifts effort, which will often be undertaken to fund a special initiative or project.  An early step in the process is creating a brochure, either printed or electronic, that outlines the case for the project, including goal/need, the pledge period and the projected ability of the organization to accomplish what it sets out to achieve.

Forming a major gifts committee is another integral component of the campaign.  Responsibilities for the major gifts committee must be clear and precise, i.e., duration of service, number of meetings, and number of solicitations and cultivations in which they will be involved.  An additional prerequisite to serve on a major gifts committee is that all members must make their own major gift commitment.

While the number of initial prospects that comprise an effective major gifts effort can vary greatly, a good starting point would be approximately 100 individuals.  Given the time constraints of volunteers, you should ask that a member of your major gifts committee be responsible for no more than five actual solicitations and assist with five additional cultivations.

When working with volunteers, you should expect a certain level of discomfort and even fear when they are being called upon to ask for a major gift.  Providing your committee with training, mentoring, roll playing and marketing material will assist in their efforts to succeed.  Their ultimate role is to bear witness to the importance of the mission and ministry, to discuss how it has impacted their lives and that of their families, and to explain how the case will allow for a brighter future for the organization.

Other Important Considerations For Your Major Gifts Campaign

  • Conduct appropriate electronic screening of your database; Electronic screening firms can provide direction in determining to what extent your database should be analyzed.
  • Cultivate your prospects: Extend invitations to prospects to attend small meetings or receptions where they can hear firsthand the vision and needs of your organization and see how a major gift can impact your future.  The results of these conversations will better determine when individuals are ready to be asked.
  • The Ask: The actual execution of the ask needs to happen through face-to-face conversations, the delivery of a written request letter, or a discussion of a major gift pyramid, which reviews what gift levels a donor is being asked to consider.
  • Stewardship: As you move your major gifts program from planning to implementation, you will need to have the capacity to accept and track pledges, planned gifts, and other common gift types, such as insurance and property.

If you need any assistance with your major gifts campaign, please contact me.  Ruotolo Associates has assisted its clients with major gift fundraising and capital campaigns for more than 30 years.