MAJOR DONOR FOCUS: Getting the Gift before Dec. 31

Phone call

I know you’ve worked feverishly to get to this point.  It’s almost the end of the calendar year.  But your work isn’t done.

There’s still time to raise a significant amount of money from your Major Donors. 

Here are two simple things that you can do today, to give yourself the best chance to secure that year-end gift.

  1. Identify any Major Donor who hasn’t given in the last 90 days.  Their last gift may have been in May, June, July, or even August.  These are the people that are most likely to send you another gift as the year comes to a close.  But only if you give each Major Donor a compelling reason to do so. 

  2. Present a compelling offer.  When you ask each Major Donor for their year-end gift, your offer must be compelling.  Ensure it’s urgent, relevant, and needed now.  It might be a funding need or financial shortfall.  Perhaps COVID has added some unexpected expenses to your budget.  Or, a large grant has fallen through. You might even have an initiative for 2021 that needs seed money to grow.  Whatever your offer is, present each Major Donor with a compelling reason to give before December 31.

Once you’ve identified the Majors that didn’t made a gift in the last 90 days, and you have a compelling offer to present, it’s your time to shine.

Pick up the phone, send some emails, schedule a Zoom meeting – leverage all methods of communication.  But do it with urgency, because as we mentioned in this previous blog post, there’s still time, and your Majors haven’t run out of money. 

MAJOR DONOR FOCUS: Better Manage your Majors in the New Year

Hi I'm a Donor

It’s been a challenge for many organizations to secure Major Donor gifts this holiday season.  And while it’s not over just yet, I want to begin to look forward and suggest how you can manage your Major Donors when the new year arrives.

To unpack this further, let’s put our Majors into two simple buckets – those who gave a gift in November or December, and those who didn’t.

Majors Who Gave a Gift

Those that gave a gift in November or December should be treated differently than major donors who held onto their gift.

First and foremost, we want to genuinely thank Majors who made a gift.

Regardless of the amount, The Better Fundraising Company has often talked about the benefit of following a busy holiday and year-end with a month of gratitude.  We call it Thankuary

Thanking your donors, Majors especially, is a great way to help secure future gifts.  So, now is the perfect time to start preparing thank-you notes, cards, emails, and letters to ensure that your most generous donors feel your love and gratitude.

If you’d like to see how to apply Thankuary at your organization, you can download a free cheat sheet, here.

Majors Who Didn’t Give a Gift

There are a variety of reasons why your Majors may not be making a gift in November or December.  Yet whether it’s uncertainty around the economy or the effects of the pandemic, there are a few things you can do in January to help secure a major gift.

Firstly, be ready to present your Majors with a good offer.  It might be an urgent cold-weather need, an opportunity to provide a match, or even a vision for 2021 they can fund or support.  But whatever the offer is, make sure it’s relevant to the donor and the season.

Secondly, start to secure your meetings or Zoom calls now.  Get appointments on the calendar for January.   And when you have those appointments, be bold in your asking, and give your Majors a problem that only they can solve.

To land the plane, if your Majors made a gift in November or December, make sure to thank them well.  But if you’re still waiting for that gift, don’t despair.  Instead, prepare your offer, be patient, and get ready to deliver it early in the new year.

MAJOR DONOR FOCUS: Navigate the pandemic and post-election waters with success

Over the past few weeks, I’ve spoken with a number of organizations who are feeling very concerned about their major gift fundraising. 

During what is normally a prosperous giving season, organizations are noticing that substantial gifts from their Major Donors are down significantly. 

Rivers that usually run deep have slowed to a trickle.  While majors are still engaged, and they still desire to help, there is a reluctance to make their usual financial commitment.

Perhaps you’re in a similar position?

There are two factors that are impacting the giving confidence of your Major Donors: the federal election and COVID-19.

Let me address each one separately, and offer a few suggestions for how you can navigate Christmas and Year-End with your Major Donors.

Election 2020

When asked why they couldn’t make their annual gift to the organization, one Major Donor said:

  • “There’s a lot of contention and stress politically, right now.  I still want to support you, but I just want to see how that unfolds.”

Four-years ago, the same thing happened.  Also in 2012.  There’s precedent to show that in an election year, Major Donors may often give less, or later than normal. 

We’re seeing a similar trend this year.  Yet history shows that once the transition of power takes effect, the major gifts you would normally see come in November will now likely arrive in December, or perhaps in the new year. 

The good news is that Majors still want to support your mission!

Coronavirus Restrictions 2.0

Here we go again.

A second-wave of COVID-19 restrictions is impacting many states and counties across the country.  Emotionally this is a difficult time, and this tension permeates the economy.  And understandably, those with personal wealth are being a little more cautious than normal.

Your Majors have business interests, investments, and financial portfolios that depend on a healthy economy.  Indeed, when asked why they can’t commit to their usual year-end gift, one donor said:

  • “I want to wait and see how this new round of restrictions impacts my business.”

Navigating Forward

There is good news.

Your Major Donors haven’t run out of money.  The stock market is strong, and it’s getting stronger on news of coronavirus vaccines and progress with political transitions.

What you can do is stay the course, remain positive, and be in front of your donors more often.  Continue to make phone calls, send emails, notes, and cards.  Surprise and delight them. 

Be patient, stay in touch, and when your Majors are ready to give, they’ll give.

Only a few weeks left to raise more money!


This is the most fruitful fundraising time of the year. And now’s the time to be asking your donors for a generous gift.

Don’t wait!

  • Pick up the phone right now and ask your major donor to make a year-end donation.
  • Send out an email today to your entire email database. The email should be short, to the point, and include multiple hyperlinks to your giving page.
  • Take over the homepage of your website to promote the opportunity for visitors to make a donation.
  • If you have a funding shortfall this time of year, be vulnerable and talk about it! Donors love giving to solve problems.

If you wait to raise money until January, it will be too late. Make it as easy as possible for your donors to make a gift and ask them often – from now until midnight on December 31st!

Want to know more? Get Jim’s recorded webinar and start learning how you can raise more money and steward important donor relationships during this crucial year-end fundraising season.

To help you with your major donor fundraising this year-end, we’re running a series of Jim Shapiro’s most helpful posts.

We hope it provides you with some tips and tactics that skyrocket your major donor revenue during this important fundraising season.

3 Tips to Find New Major Donors


Finding new major donors can seem like impossible work. But it doesn’t have to be.

Here are three proven tips that will help you find new major donors for your organization:

Tip #1: Your future major donors are your former major donors! Look through your past giving records to identify donors that used to give to your organization, but no longer do. These lapsed donors, for one reason or another, stopped giving. But with a little bit of work, many will give a gift again.

Tip #2: Your future major donors are currently giving to your organization (they just aren’t giving at the major donor level yet). These donors tend to give smaller gifts, and more of them. However, with some direct communication and an ask for more than they typically give, you can convert some of these donors to major donors.

Tip #3: Your future major donors aren’t currently giving you a gift, but they have a heart for the work you do. The best way to meet these potential majors is to host “non-ask” events like open-houses, dinner parties, tours of your facility, etc. The more people you can introduce to your organization, the more potential major donors you’ll meet.

Pro Tip: I want to remind you to do all that you can to keep your current major donors actively giving. It costs you more money and time to find new donors than it does to keep your current donors.

The best way to keep your donors actively giving is to Thank them promptly and emotionally for their recent gift. Then Report back to them on the amazing things they did, because they gave a gift.

Thanking and Reporting are the powerful tools you can leverage to keep your current major donors giving to your organization – and loving it!

Want to know more? Get Jim’s recorded webinar and start learning how you can raise more money and steward important donor relationships during this crucial year-end fundraising season.

To help you with your major donor fundraising this year-end, we’re running a series of Jim Shapiro’s most helpful posts.

We hope it provides you with some tips and tactics that skyrocket your major donor revenue during this important fundraising season.

Prioritize Your Way to Fundraising Success!


If you’re like most development directors or executive directors, you feel a little overwhelmed by your day-to-day responsibilities.

And the day-to-day demands of your job put you at risk of not taking the time to cultivate your major donor relationships the way you’d like.

To help you prioritize your major donor development and fundraising, I strongly suggest creating a donor rating system. Developing a system is relatively easy, and it will take the guesswork out of which donor you should contact and cultivate first.

Here’s how it works.

Using a scale of 1-3 (with 1 being the lowest rating, and 3 being the highest rating), rank each of your majors on these four qualities:

  1. Total giving for the past 12 months – the top third should be rated “3”, the middle third rated “2”, etc.
  2. Affinity for your work or cause – do they love what you do or those you serve?
  3. Relationship strength – is the relationship between the donor and you or someone else at your organization strong or weak?
  4. Financial capacity – regardless of how much they’ve given, how much could they give?

Now, add up the total score for each donor. The best score would be 12, and the worst would be 4.

Then sort your list by the highest-rated donor, down to the lowest-rated donor.

Now you know which donors you should cultivate first! And you know how to spend your time to create a bigger impact for your organization.

Want to know more? Get Jim’s recorded webinar and start learning how you can raise more money and steward important major donor relationships during this most important time of the fundraising year.

To help you with your major donor fundraising this year-end, we’re running a series of Jim Shapiro’s most helpful posts this month.

We hope it provides you with some tips and tactics that skyrocket your major donor revenue during this important fundraising season.

Successful Major Donor Fundraising Takes Time

Major donor.

To help you with your major donor fundraising this year-end, we’re running a series of Jim Shapiro’s most helpful posts from the past.

We hope it provides you with some tips and tactics that skyrocket your major donor revenue during this important fundraising season.

Just about every single month, I receive an emergency phone call from an executive director who is short of their budgeted goal for a project or program.

The organizations that call us often have something in common: a leadership team that hasn’t had a disciplined approach to cultivating relationships with their major donors. So when it was time for those organizations to ask their major donors for financial help, their donors weren’t inclined to respond.

What does that mean for you?

It means that TODAY is the day you need to reach out to your top active donors and donor prospects. Right now, pick up the phone and give them a call. This very minute, pick up a pen and write them a thank you note. Or sometime this week, ask a donor to lunch.

Then make sure you have a disciplined system that keeps you in touch with them as often as they would like (which is usually more often than you think) – especially if you’re good about Thanking and Reporting back to them on the effects of their previous gifts.

But for now, take the time to connect with your top donors. By doing this, you’ll not only build great mission-driven friendships but you’ll also prepare your donors to respond when you come to them with a need.

Want to know more? Get Jim’s recorded year-end webinar about major donors, and start learning how you can raise more money and steward important donor relationships during this crucial time of the fundraising year.

Offers for Major Donors

Two people discussing.

Today’s topic is a complex subject. But I’ve done the work to be able to talk about it in a succinct manner.

The topic? Using offers to increase major donor giving.

Three main ideas for you…

Offers for Major Donors: Under-Utilized, but Very Effective

Presenting a major donor with a specific thing that their gift will do for a specific amount of money is a very powerful tactic.

But in my experience, too many nonprofits stop using specific offers when their donors move up and into major donor status. All of the asks move into the generic “support our mission” approach.

Do not remove specific offers from the toolbox you use to cultivate and upgrade your current major donors.

One of the main reasons our major donor consulting practice is thriving is because we help organizations develop specific offers for their majors. Those offers usually result in higher giving and higher retention rates.

There are Two Main Ways to Create Offers for Majors

The first way: use the same offer you use for your mass donor, but in greater quantities.

Instead of “$50 provides supplemental math training to a student for a week,” say “$1,500 provides supplemental math training for an entire classroom for one week” or “$4,500 provides supplemental math training for all the 3rd grade classes at a school for one week.”

All you’re doing here is using large multiples of a smaller offer. But (and this is important) you are grouping those multiples into the right-sized groupings for major donors.

The second way: create custom offers for major donors.

This is often done by reviewing program budgets to find line items at an amount a specific donor might give. For instance, say you’re a community Arts organization and your rent for the year is $20,000. You could say the following to a donor:

“Your gift of $20,000 will provide a headquarters for our organization for an entire year. You’ll make it possible for the entire team to have a place to work together, to meet, and to work to preserve the local Arts and artists that you care about so much.”

Note: this raises an issue of designated vs. un-designated giving, which is not the subject of this post. In my experience, organizations that are set up to raise both kinds of giving tend to have the most success.

A “Donor-Shaped Hole”

I’ve shared the concept of how all of your fundraising pieces should have a “donor-shaped hole” in them: an obvious role for your donor to play in an appeal, at an event, in your organization.

The trick with major donors is to create the right-sized hole for each donor, while not ignoring the fact that some of your majors would like to accomplish specific things with their gift.

That’s the reason offers work for major donors, too. An offer shares a specific need that allows a major donor to support your organization, your beneficiaries or cause, AND feel like they’ve accomplished something specific. For some donors, that’s a powerful combination.

Too many organizations’ major donor fundraising comes down to communicating, “You can give a lot of money, please support us.”

That’s just not as powerful an offer as, “Here’s something powerful and specific that needs to be done to help, will you do this?”

It usually takes more work to create and refine offers for major donors. But it’s worth it.

Read the entire series:

  1. How to Create a Great Fundraising Offer: What’s an Offer?
  2. Why a Good Fundraising Offer Works So Well
  3. The Ingredients in Successful Offers
  4. How to Describe the “Solution” Your Organization Provides
  5. How to Raise More Money by Asking for the Right Amount
  6. How and Why to Give Your Donors a Reason to Give Today
  7. What About Internal Experts Who Don’t Like Fundraising Offers?
  8. How to Make Sure a Low-Priced Offer Does NOT Produce Small Gifts
  9. Half As Important
  10. Offers for Major Donors
  11. Summarizing and Closing This Chapter on Fundraising Offers

How to Convince Your Boss to Invest in Planned Giving (warning: involves math)

Planned Giving

We’re doing a series of short posts called Mastermind Lessons.

The Fundraising Mastermind is transformational consulting for nonprofits that we do with Chris Davenport of Movie Mondays and The Nonprofit Storytelling Conference.

Today’s post is the third top-level lesson we’ve found that every organization in the Mastermind needs to learn…

Most Organizations Under-Invest in Planned Giving Because They Don’t Understand the Potential Windfall

For most nonprofit leaders, “Planned Giving” is a bit of a black box:

Your organization has some donors . . .

. . . you get some legacy gifts . . .

but you don’t really know how many legacy gifts you’ll receive or how large they will be.

Because leaders don’t really understand how planned giving works, they are loath to invest real money in it.

So they work on next month’s event, and then the appeal after that, and then the website needs to be updated… you get it.

Planned giving becomes an afterthought. Or underfunded. Or not thought about at all.

Here’s What to Show Your Boss

What I’m about to share comes directly from this blog post by Jeff Brooks at Moceanic. When I read it, I immediately added it to my toolkit of information to help nonprofits with. It’s powerful.

The formula to calculate your future planned giving income is:

It’s A x B x C = D.

A = The number of your donors who have given 2 or more gifts, and at least one of those gifts was made in the last 18 months.

B = Your successful pledge rate. This is the big variable, the number you can change by what you do or not do. It most likely is somewhere between 0.01% and 5%.

C = Your average bequest. For US charities, it’s around $35,000. If you don’t know your average, this is a good number to use.

Multiply those three numbers, and you’ll have the value of future bequests to your organization.

Let’s play it out with these assumptions. You can adjust these to your realities:

Here’s how it looks for an organization that has no bequest program or does almost nothing to cultivate bequests:

A = 10,000 donors who’ve given 2 or more gifts, and their last gift was within the last 18 months

B = 0.01% successful pledge rate (very low because you aren’t actively seeking bequests)

C = $35,000

D = $350,000 in future bequest income

Ok. Not bad for doing nothing. And a lot of charities skate along like that, seeing that $350,000 as a kind of random windfall. They’re happy with it. They’d be a little less happy if they thought about the opportunity cost they’re paying for doing nothing!

Here’s what it looks like for an organization that has a not-terribly-effective bequest program. They’re consistently doing something to encourage bequests, just not the most they could:

A = 10,000 donors (that meet the criteria I’ve listed above)

B = 1% successful pledge rate

C = $35,000

D = $3.5 million in future bequest income

The difference between $350,000 and $3.5 million is a big difference, no?

Two Big Lessons

There are two big lessons I’d love for your organization to take away from this.

First, the average value of bequests is really high. So you can (and should!) invest real time and money into landing legacy gifts. That can meaning hiring a Bequest Manager or a Planned Giving Officer. It can mean sending out mailings that are only about planned giving (instead of just mentioning planned giving in some other mailing or email).

Second, it’s just math. Calculate how much money your organization is projected to be receiving based on today’s numbers, and how much money you could be receiving if your organization ups its game. Then show your boss.

I did that for two “Bosses” last week, and it changed how both of them think about investing in planned giving.

It will take time to get great at identifying prospects and then landing legacy gifts. But it’s worth your time and investment!