Author: Diane Remin

Major Gifts That Add-up: Building Annual Revenues via Multi-year Gifts

As a smaller nonprofit, you have limited resources. Use multi-year major gifts to boost your annual revenue stream.

Donor research will determine “ask” amounts for your donors. The individual donations don’t have to be huge.

For this example, let’s assume you have donors with the ability to give $2,500, $5,000, or $10,000 per year for three years.

Note: Capital or building campaigns often have five-year horizons; three years is more typical for annual fund-oriented major gift programs.

The chart below shows what happens over a three year period if you make ten successful multi-year asks each year:

  • 4 asks per year for $2,500
  • 3 asks per year for $5,000
  • 3 asks per year for $10,000 per year for five years.

That’s less than one major gift per month!

Multi-year Giving

By Year 3, you are generating $165,000!

Remember: You can’t ignore the donors who gave in Years 1 & 2. Continue to thank them and let them know exactly how their gift is making a difference—and they will give again when the time comes.



What do major donors want?

Two strategies will prompt your donors to give again and again.

This list is going to sound shocking simple. But it’s research-based (thank you Penelope Burk, Donor-Centered Fundraising Second Edition).

Here are the keys to the major gift kingdom:

1. Major donors want to know what difference their gift made (gift impact)

  • They want to know what their money did each and every time they make a gift. What was accomplished thanks to that gift?
  • They want to know about the impact of the gift they most recently made before they are asked for another gift. Consider an “Impact Report”—which can be a one-pager.

2. Major donors want to be thanked promptly and personally (per Penelope) and often (keep building the relationship)

  • Promptly (pick up the phone)
  • Personally
  • Heartfelt hand-written notes continue to be the gold standard—even more so in this digital era.
  • A compelling, personal, 30-second thank you video or special photo can also be heart-warming. Looking for sincere gratitude—not production values. Reasonable mobile phone quality that is easy to see and hear is fine.

Note: The IRS-required thank you, even beautifully written with a sparkling first sentence and personal note, is not sufficient.

Recommendation: Create a “thank you/impact strategy” for each of your major donors. Consider at least four “touches” between gifts. Timing can’t always be predicted. Send news when it’s newsworthy.

Mix-up the “touches,” which should include an Impact Report and might include:

  • An initial thank you series: call, hand-written note, IRS-required documentation provided in a compelling letter (with IRS info at the bottom or as an enclosure)
  • An email with an article attached that might be of interest to the donor
  • Your newsletter with a note attached
  • News
  • Coffee with the donor where you simply provide an update and/or ask for advice
  • A birthday or Thanksgiving card
  • An invitation to an exclusive event
  • A conversation at an event

Report gift impact and thank right away and often. That’s it!

The Strategic, Interactive Nonprofit Board Meeting: Beyond “Official Business”

The board engagement is key for successful major gift fundraising.  By extension, meaningful board meetings not only serve the organization and its senior team, but also enhance board engagement.

I share one of the best articles I’ve seen about board meetings.  It’s written by a NYC-based venture capitalist, Fred Wilson.  It is told through the lens of a for-profit company, but I believe you will find that the vast majority of the techniques and thoughts apply equally to your nonprofit board. The article was posted on April 2. 2012 under the blog AVC…. musings of a NYC VC and is simply titled, “The Board of Directors: Board Meetings.”

I encourage you to visit the article directly as it is a blog and the comments are interesting as well.  Here’s the link:

Here are some of the techniques that caught my attention:

  1. A “keeping me up at night” list.  The Executive Director/President/CEO reviews the list at the start of every meetings. The list shows both the current list and the items that were on the list at the last meeting along with their current status.This list quickly gets the board into “the mind of the CEO.”  It’s easy to see what has and hasn’t been resolved as well as the new items that have emerged. The list drives the discussion.
  2. Call a staff-free executive session at the end of each meeting.  It may last 5 minutes or it may take half an hour. Use the time to discuss the meeting and its key takeaways are.  Then invite the ED back in to debrief the session or have the Chair of the Board meet with the ED. “This is an opportunity for the Board to provide feedback to the CEO on the business, the team, and performance, and the strategy.”
  3. Board meeting are for the benefit of the ED and senior team. “I’ve always loved the idea of a “kitchen cabinet” and to me that is what a great Board meeting should feel like. The Board should be a set of experienced, engaged, and helpful advisors and Board meetings should be a place and a time for that group to provide the most help and assistance they can,” notes Fred.

Imagine the board meeting that inspires board members to think: “Oh good — there’s a board meeting next week.” By focusing the board on issues and taking advantage of their collective wisdom, it is possible.

I was asked how I built my fundraising consultancy

I was asked how I built my fundraising consultancy, and was reminded about why I started Check out the podcast episode below.

It’s been almost eight years, and the reasons I started a fundraising consultancy that focuses on major gift work at smaller nonprofits hold true today:

Most smaller nonprofits are not out there visiting with their donors—until it’s time for a campaign

  • They are missing out on the annual revenue stream that major gifts create.
  • When the time comes for an endowment or capital campaign, they are starting at square one.
  • It’s easy for staff of the small development shop to become overwhelmed with appeals, events and grants.

Visiting with donors falls to the bottom of the list.

This is unfortunate, in that major gift fundraising is likely the most cost-effective option. Events, in particular, often produce a modest “return on investment” when staff and volunteer time are taken into account. (“Friendraiser” becomes a justification).

Neither the board nor the Executive Director push for a major gift program, partly through lack of knowledge, and partly because they know it will require them to take an active role! 

Fundraising is misunderstood.

Telemarketing and arm-twist tactics have taken their toll. Most people believe fundraising is about extracting a gift—like you would a bad tooth.

Most nonprofit board members—and plenty of staff—have not been trained to visit with donors one-on-one… and have what are almost invariably delightful conversations.

Five reasons to enjoy major gift fundraising

Major gift fundraising is about relationships, conversations and opportunities.  

Here are five reasons to enjoy it:

1)      Stimulating conversations with people who share your interest/passion.

2)      Knowledge that the conversation itself brings the donor closer to the organization and has a positive ripple effect—independent of the financial outcome (but you do have to ask).

3)      You are presenting the donor with a gift:  The opportunity to have a high-impact, feel-good experience.

4)      It’s cost-effective.

5)      You have significant control over achieving an annual goal:  The more donors with whom you speak, the more money you will raise.