Our Ask An Expert series features real questions answered by Claire Axelrad, J.D., CFRE, our very own Fundraising Coach, also known as Charity Clairity.

Today’s question comes from a fundraiser who wants to raise major gifts to support operations.

Dear Charity Clairity,

I would love to do major gifts. I have several donors I feel I have become friends with. I am consistently updating them on the agency. My question is we are not doing a campaign or a special project. We need money for operational expenses. How do I ask them for a major gift to support operations?

Not in a campaign

Dear Not in a campaign,

You are always in a campaign if you need contributed income, annually, to support your operations.  It just happens to be an ‘annual campaign’ rather than a ‘capital’ or ‘endowment’ campaign. In fact, one of the things that is so useful about incorporating a major gifts segment into your annual campaign is you’ll then have capital and endowment campaign prospects when the time and need arises.

You can easily ask current donors for major annual gifts. Consider them a special segment of your campaign. Pull out your major gift prospects from your regular campaign cycle and put them into a special major donor portfolio. Create a personal, target ask amount and cultivation plan for each. Generally, these prospects will be those who:

  1. Currently donate at or above your average gift amount, and/or
  2. Make multiple gifts throughout the year, and/or
  3. Made a past major gift, and
  4. Have capacity to make a larger gift.

You will get the most passionate gifts when you don’t ask simply for unrestricted gifts for ‘operations.’ Major donors prefer to make a specific impact, which means asking them for a specific amount for a specific purpose.  You can absolutely make this purpose something that falls within your operating budget. It’s just good practice to develop one or more written case statements for specific programs or services you believe – based on what you know, or learn through donor cultivation – will most float your donor’s boat. Your donor may ultimately decide to let you use their gift where most needed, but only because you first aligned your work with their passions, not just yours.

Hopefully these tips will help you ask for major annual gifts in the future!

Charity Clairity

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Claire Axelrad

Claire Axelrad

Fundraising Coach at Bloomerang
Claire Axelrad, J.D., CFRE is a fundraising visionary with 30+ years frontline development work helping organizations raise millions in support. Her award-winning blog showcases her practical approach, which earned her the AFP “Outstanding Fundraising Professional of the Year” award. Claire runs “Clairification School” online, teaches the CFRE course that certifies professional fundraisers, and is a regular contributor to Guidestar, NonProfit PRO and Maximize Social Business.
Claire Axelrad