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Starting a New Job, and a New Major Gifts Program

You got the job! You’re the new Major Gifts Officer — or Director of Development in a one person shop. Your key responsibility is to grow the organization’s major gifts program.

During your interviews you were told that there were lists of prospects.

You are now on the job. You’ve met a few of the key staff and board, and now it’s time to get down to work — cultivating and involving the organization’s major gift prospects. You look at the “list of prospects” you were “promised,” and all that’s there is a list of people who have given to the annual drive — average gift is $50, with gifts ranging from $10 to $500.

This definitely wasn’t what you expected! So, now, where do you start?

  1. Step 1 – Do you have a major gifts committee? If not, form one. The committee should be comprised of individuals who are current supporters (preferably at the major gift level) who are familiar with your constituency and can identify those on your annual drive list with the capability of making a major gift. And, by the way, how does your organization define a major gift? This is a great time to make that determination. (It might help to refer to the first MGR issue, “What is a Major Gift.”)
  2. While you are at it, this is also a good time to determine your policies for receiving major gifts. Is it cash only? Will you accept property? Under what conditions? Remember the Salvation Army Director who refused a $100,000 gift from a lottery winner — what would you do?
  3. Determine if the members of your major gifts committee have experience in soliciting prospective donors face-to-face. You will want to see prospects for major gifts in person and it is best for this visit to be done by two people, often a volunteer and a staff person. If the committee members are not experienced, plan to hold some training sessions to get them started.
  4. Next step, have your annual giving lists reviewed by the committee. These committee members will help you identify potential major donors, and who would be the best person to contact each prospect. Once you have this list, you can begin scheduling meetings. If possible, have the volunteer set the appointment. Having a new major gifts director is a great advantage. The reason for the first meeting can be to ask the advice of your prospects on how you can be most effective. You might also ask them to review your lists as well. Anyone capable of giving you a major gift probably also has some good advice to give. And, use this meeting to thank the individual for their past generous support and update them on the wonderful work their gift is helping to accomplish!
  5. Begin to identify major gift opportunities based upon your organization’s strategic plan. Some of these opportunities might be giving clubs to encourage annual giving (see: “Creating Giving Clubs: Cultivating Prospective Major Donors,” the December 10, 2002 issue of MGR, special gifts for special projects, capital needs, endowment and bequest opportunities.
  6. Design simple but tastefully done materials, describing your giving opportunities, that can be left with prospects following solicitation meetings.
  7. Develop your policies for donor recognition (will there be on-site plaques, will they be permanent or time limited, will donors be recognized in publication(s) in addition to or instead of other means of recognition, etc.) I recommend that you, the professional, develop a draft for revision/approval by the Executive Director. Next, it will go to the major gifts committee and finally to the board for approval.
  8. Now you are ready to bring major gift opportunities to the attention of prospective donors. And, since you are the expert, you can take it from here. We wish you and your organization the best of luck.

About the Contributor: Iris Nahemow

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