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Major Gift Fundraising Program Lessons

by Alan Sharpe

The main difference between direct mail fundraising and major gift fundraising is simple. Direct mail fundraising solicits small gifts from many people while major gift fundraising solicits large gifts from few people. One tactic solicits on paper, the other in person. Here are some tips to remember when you begin a major gift fundraising program.

Lesson #1: Some major donors are hidden in plain sight

How do you find a major donor in your database? First define what a major donor is. Let's say a major donor is someone who makes a gift of $20,000 or more. Look for those people in your database by running a query on all gifts received that were $20,000 or greater. But remember to search for large monthly gifts, too. You may have a donor who gives $2,000 a month, and has done for years. That's $24,000 a year, more than what a once-a-year major donor gives.

Lesson #2: Plenty of your most generous donors won't be giving 15 years from now

Plenty of the major donors in your database are likely in their 70s or late 60s. In 15 years their large annual gifts will stop. You need to find donors today who will take their place in the years ahead.

Lesson #3: Donors cannot be relied upon to pick the best venue for a visit

Starbucks is not the best place to meet with a major donor for the first time. You can hardly find a table, the places are so busy. And a Red Lobster Restaurant is too noisy, especially if your donor is hard of hearing. You must meet your donors where they want to meet, of course. But next time you meet with a donor for the first time, suggest a less busy, quieter, alternative venue that has few distractions.

Lesson #4: A donor who says, "Sure I'll meet you, phone me when you're in town," might not

Don't fly 3,000 miles to visit a donor who agrees to a meeting but does not confirm a day and time, unless you have plenty of other visits lined up in the same region with other donors. When donors agree to meet with you but ask you me to phone them "when in town" to arrange a time and place to meet, instead arrange a day and time for them to expect your phone call. Don't run the risk that the donor will forget about their commitment to meet you.

Lesson #5: Keep detailed records, or else

You must keep detailed, current files on all donors and prospects. Some of your donors know more about your organization than you do, they've been with you for so long. But how much do you know about them? Do you know that Donor A chaired your capital campaign 23 years ago? Or that Donor B is the wife of your Treasurer (and goes by a different last name)? Keep detailed and current notes of all your donors and all your visits and all correspondence with them and you will raise more money and fewer eyebrows.

© 2009 Alan Sharpe. Reprinted with permission.

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About the Author: Alan Sharpe publishes Fundraising Pointers, the free, weekly email newsletter about raising funds, building relationships and retaining loyal donors. Alan is the author of Breakthrough Fundraising Letters, Mail Superiority, and 25 handbooks on direct mail fundraising. Alan is also a speaker and workshop leader who delivers public seminars and teleseminars on direct mail fundraising. Sign up for Alan's newsletter at

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