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5 (Very Simple) Steps to Build a Major Gifts Program from the Ground Up

Does your nonprofit have a major gifts program? Scared to start one? Not even sure where you would begin. Many nonprofit leaders feel the same way you do. That’s why we asked fundraising pro Gail Perry to weigh in this week with some advice to help us dive in. Thanks for the great advice Gail!



Major gifts are the “big win” in fundraising.
building blocks1

All nonprofits hope for the large gifts that help fund important programs and solidify your financial base.

We all know that the return on your investment of time and energy is much higher in major gifts than in other types of fundraising.

Then why don’t all organizations press forward with a major gifts program?

It’s because the time and effort to develop a major gifts effort is more than many organizations can spare.

People tell me they are nervous about approaching major donors. Or they don’t think they have the prospects.

Sometimes the biggest roadblock is simply getting an appointment. Others say they have serious difficulty making the ask.

I feel their pain! I’ve been there too. And I can say that major gift fundraising is not for the fainthearted.


5 Very Simple Steps to Major Gifts

Here’s a great — very simple — step-by-step guide to create and implement a successful major gifts program for your organization.

Whether you are large or small, you can follow this simple blueprint:

Step One: Develop a Major Gifts Team

Major gift fundraising is a team sport, not a solo one.

If you are trying to do this all by yourself, you’re making it much harder than it needs to be.

A team helps expand your contacts and bring in new information to the process.

  •  Enlist your CEO and selected board leaders
  •  Show them how much potential money is out there
  •  Create clear jobs for everyone: identifying, strategizing, opening doors, hosting cultivation events, soliciting
  •  Set clear goals
  •  Meet with your team often to maintain momentum

Step Two: Create and Maintain a Master List of Major Gift Prospects

Your prospect list is your fundamental tool for your major gifts program.

Choose a smaller number of potential donors and work them thoroughly.

Rate them on their interest level in your cause and their financial capacity.

  •  Start with the donors you have
  •  Size up their potential
  •  Review your prospect list with other donors – do your research.
  •  Track your Major Prospect List in excel or your donor database.
  •  Prioritize them and set next steps

Step Three: Work With Major Donor Prospects One at a Time

Don’t rush the relationship — you are exploring and getting to know your prospects.

Make them close friends of the organization through frequent contact.

Spend the face time needed to develop your relationship.

  •  Create an individualized cultivation plan for each person
  •  Create trust by doing what you say you’ll do
  •  Listen deeply to your donor
  •  Develop each relationship with the long term in mind
  •  Track and measure each step you take

Step Four: Create a Personalized Asking Approach for Each Major Donor Prospect

Don’t rush to the ask! You can only ask when the donor is ready.

If you spend careful time cultivating a warm relationship with your donor, then the ask will take care of itself.

You need to show your donor how YOUR opportunity matches your donor’s vision.

  •  Get ready carefully
  •  Make your project exciting and compelling
  •  Be able to SELL your case with enthusiasm
  •  Test to see if your donor is ready
  •  Learn as much as possible about your donor’s interests, values and vision for a better world.

Step Five: Make the Ask

The ask is really seamless if you do a super job developing your relationship, listening to your donor, and warming her up.

It is just a continuation of the process, and your donor will say to you “how can I help?”

  •  Make the ask into a conversation
  •  Don’t low ball your donor – ask for the stretch gift if they are ready
  •  Let your donor do 50% of the talking in an ask visit
  •  Make your project into an “opportunity”
  •  Add urgency: Explain why the donor should give right now
  • Follow up! An ask is not an ask without followup!


Gail Perry, MBA, CFRE, is an international fundraising consultant, trend-spotter, speaker, trainer and thought leader. Her Fired-Up Fundraising Board Workshops have inspired thousands of board members to get actively involved in fundraising. Gail’s book, Fired-Up Fundraising: Turn Board Passion into Action (Wiley/AFP) is the “gold standard guide to building successful fundraising boards.”