Transitioning to a major gifts fundraising model is an exciting way to accelerate your nonprofit’s growth and achieve your mission. But it can mean hitting the restart button on many of your organization’s standard processes, including marketing and communications.

As your organization moves forward with major gifts, learn how your marketing program can support this shift, anticipate and address challenges, and make everyone feel successful—including donors themselves.

What are Major Gifts?

Each nonprofit defines major gifts differently, but they are generally the largest donations that your organization brings in. When you’re starting out, a major gift might be in the thousands of dollars. For large nonprofits, a major gift might start at $50,000 or more.

And who exactly are major donors?

Major donors in the U.S. make up most of the giving pie when you look at total dollars. High net worth households are very likely to give, resulting in 49% of donations coming from just 1% of all donors.

Like any donor group, these philanthropists have a wide range of preferences and interests. In the Global Trends in Giving Report, here’s what major donors (classified as giving $10,000+) say about themselves:

  • Mostly like to give online (45%)
  • Sometimes give through Facebook or crowdfunding (less than 40%)
  • Sometimes donate through the mail (25%)
  • Prefer to volunteer locally (81%)
  • Attend fundraising events (69%)
  • Sign online petitions (52%)

When your nonprofit is getting started with major gifts, some of your biggest obstacles likely have to do with identifying major donor candidates that you already know or would like to meet. (If a board member has ever asked you to reach out to Bill Gates, Oprah or Leonardo DiCaprio, I feel your pain.)

For more on the process of finding major donors for your cause, check out the Major Gifts Guide from Salsa and a similar major gifts resource from Neon.

Building a Major Gifts Program

Does your nonprofit have separate people or teams for marketing and development? If so, you might assume that major gifts fundraising isn’t your domain. In reality, that silo has got to go.

Launching a major gifts program means figuring out how to prioritize projects, creating new processes and reconfiguring internal roles. Consider these common challenges and how marketers might offer insights or play a part:

  • Developing a pipeline of qualified major donor candidates based on prospect research
  • Figuring out how to build donor connections, including following up on fundraising asks or pledges and maintaining warm relationships
  • Determining clear responsibilities among staff, executives, board members and volunteers for managing donor portfolios
  • Building a culture of philanthropy across your organization to keep everyone aligned and working toward the same goals
  • Tracking, acknowledging and managing major gifts, not only in terms of data management and accounting but also as part of communication plans

And if you’re a smaller organization? It’s still possible to build a major gifts program without a big team. The best approach is to scale your program over time and focus your efforts on a few potential major donors that you have the capacity to steward. Major gifts beginners can find practical tips and advice from experts like Gail Perry and Claire Axelrad.

7 Major Gifts Marketing Fundamentals

Marketing specialists can provide essential knowledge and know-how when it comes to building a major gifts program from the ground up. You’ll also have some of your own homework to do! Here are seven areas to get your ducks in a row as your nonprofit looks to grow with major gifts fundraising.

1. Branding and style

Never got around to making a style guide? There’s no better time to summarize and document your nonprofit’s brand attributes, key messages and identity. Once you start making new fundraising materials and prepping for donor meetings, you’ll want to have a consistent look, feel and story to tell. (P.S. Your website’s branding matters, too!)

2. Target audience persona development

As marketers know, creating target audience personas can be immensely helpful for crafting compelling narratives and calls-to-action. The same goes for understanding prospective donors.

Collaborate with gift officers and other fundraisers to put together at least one persona that represents a high net worth donor, including details about what they care about, how to reach and steward them and their obstacles to giving.

3. Supporting collateral

Major donor cultivation happens from a distance (phone calls, email, snail mail) as well as in face-to-face meetings. You can probably tell from my bio that I have a deep fondness for print materials: brochures, proposals, impact reports, newsletters, pitch decks, stationary… Those things can be helpful for major gifts marketing, but you should also create a digital library of assets, too.

Now’s the time to make a plan for print and virtual marketing materials that’s achievable, fits your budget, and meets the needs of your target audience. Consider using a central storage place like Google Drive to streamline where you store digital collateral and how you give people access.

4. Website content and functionality

Don’t think for a second that a major donor isn’t going to your website to check you out. Will they find information that demonstrates your credibility? Does the design communicate trustworthiness and professionalism? Make sure your site has essential content and offers social proof that tells supporters they are making an impact.

Your site should also enable donors to take actions they’re interested in, like registering for events or signing up to volunteer. And, of course, you’ll want an online donation form that’s capable of larger donation amounts and offers the ability for supporters to cover any transaction fees. Plus, major donors often donate via monthly giving programs and like the option to make tribute gifts. Is your form ready?

Learn about the 6 online forms you should have on a nonprofit website ›

5. Donor acknowledgement

It doesn’t feel great to wrap up your annual report and then learn that donors were promised special recognition or prefer to remain anonymous. Similarly, it could cause hurt feelings to publicize some major gifts and not others.

Work with your organization’s fundraisers or gift officers to plan out how you’re going to recognize donors and communicate large gifts before promises get made. It will save everyone some headaches to stick to a predetermined menu of donor recognition options that you all can actually deliver.

6. Data management and integrations

Even if you don’t “own” or administer your nonprofit’s donor database, there’s a chance that some of your marketing tools integrate with it to add or pull information. For example, your email marketing service might depend on mailing lists generated by a CRM like Salesforce.

In addition to using your database for prospect research and portfolio management, you should feel confident in its ability to correctly track and segment communications with major donors.

7. Ongoing donor stewardship

Whether you have a trained gift officer, board members, or an executive director making the asks, a major gifts fundraiser is going to need a wide range of feel-good donor touches. Staying top of mind is important, and cultivation should feel authentic and highly curated to a donor’s interests.

Stockpile a few stories for major donor visits or even some case stories that can be sent along with a note, photo gallery or video clip. NonprofitPro offers some additional ideas for engaging major donors.

Growing Up, Not Apart

As you can already tell, major gifts fundraising can mean many cooks in the kitchen. Being collaborative across fundraising and marketing is essential, whether it’s sharing your ideas and technology or finding effective ways to gather and address feedback. (Now is a great time to figure out how you want to deal with last-minute marketing requests.)

Moving to a major gifts model is more than simply adding a new tool to your nonprofit’s fundraising toolbox. It’s a big lift that will have ripple effects across your organization, especially if you’re not prepared. Marketing staff can offer leadership and support in the shift to major gifts fundraising—and your brand and communications will be stronger for it.

Is your nonprofit dipping its toes into major gifts? What marketing challenges are you facing or have you already overcome? Let’s gather up in the comments.