It’s that time of year when resolutions are often made.

Whether or not you’re a fan of the resolution-making practice for you, personally, there’s something to be said for striving to be better.

Especially when others (beneficiaries of your mission) are relying on you!

I’m going to suggest a few New Year’s resolutions you may wish to embrace on behalf of your organization – beginning this month and throughout the quarter. It doesn’t mean you have to grow into “perfect.” (In fact, this is what I believe tanks most such resolutions). It just means you choose to grow.

Seth Godin expresses this better than I ever could:

A chance for better

Perfect is the enemy of good.

Of course it is.

But that simple sentence becomes more urgent when we realize that nothing (and no one) is perfect. How could it be?

And so, if your hero, your cause, your holiday, your background, your relationship… if it’s not perfect, does that mean you should hide it? Be ashamed of it? Be afraid of it?

We’re surrounded by injustice, and yesterday was even worse. It’s so easy to find things that are imperfect and criticize them or worse, shame them.

Better, I think, to find glimmers of good and seek to amplify them. Mistakes can be seen, errors can be improved upon, and progress can be made. But only if we embrace the chance for good.

The imperfect is an opportunity for better.

Your Opportunity for Better Fundraising Results

Embrace major gifts this year.

Just because you don’t have any, or as many as you wish you did, right now is no reason to be ashamed. Or afraid.

Or to stick your head in the sand and tell yourself your organization isn’t right for major gifts.

Every organization is right for major gifts.

This year, I want you to begin a program, ramp up a program, or simply dig more deeply and strategically into what you’re already doing.

This is where the lion’s share of philanthropy will be found!

You need a plan to focus on your 12%.

It simply makes sense to follow the money.

This doesn’t mean you have to sit down and start making a list of all the rich people you can think of. For the most part, these will not be your best prospects. They’re likely not connected to you, nor are they interested in your cause. In other words, you’ll have difficulty reaching them. And, even if you managed to connect, you’d have difficulty making your case for support.

You don’t have to know a bunch of random, rich strangers.

You Already Have Access to Your Best Major Gift Prospects

I won’t go so far as to say you know them.

You probably don’t.

Because you haven’t taken the time to get to know them.

But they know you.

They are current donors.

And you’ll find them hiding in your own database.

Who are they?

Begin to Look at Your Mid-Level Donors as Major Gift Prospects

Most major gifts will come from your current donors.

And not just those already giving at what you consider your major gift level.

But try to think from the donor’s perspective.

If you give $500 to an organization, it might be the largest gift you give anywhere.

You feel like someone should notice!

Yet, to the organization, you’re well below their major gift threshold of $1,500.  So they treat you the same way they treat a $25 or $100 donor.  Not inspiring.

Alas, stuck in the middle, potential leadership donors often don’t get the attention they deserve. 

People who (1) care deeply about your mission, (2) are loyal supporters right now, and (3) have capacity to give more are the absolute best prospects you can find!

  • Some of these prospects are currently giving below what you consider your major gift level.
  • Some of these prospects are giving at or above your current major gift threshold.

But guess what’s happening due to the dearth of attention you’re paying these folks?

Many of your mid-level and above donors are not giving at their capacity.

Some wisdom holds that whatever amount a leadership giver gives annually could be amplified by a factor of 10 were they to be asked for a specific project that will have big impact.

That should blow your mind!

There are plenty of different ways to assess donor capacity, ranging from purchasing donor analytics… to holding rating/screening meetings with your board members… to researching giving to and other charities… to looking at who holds board seats, real estate, stocks or has made a maximum gift to a political campaign.

But there are even simpler ways to upgrade these potential major givers.

You can tease these major donors out from your database.

Seasoned major gift fundraiser Andrea Kihlstedt of Capital Campaign Toolkit suggests you consider running a small capacity-building campaign every few years just so your leadership givers have more opportunities to step up to the plate.

In other words, you don’t have to wait to run a major building or endowment campaign to look for major donors.

When you have an impact project to ‘sell,’ donors will come out of the woodwork to step up to the plate.

As Andrea notes: “impact drives investment, not the other way around.”

Running targeted, project-specific major gift campaigns adds excitement, helps you build major gift fundraising skills, and uncovers major donor supporters to whom you can turn for even larger future campaigns.

You’ve got potential leadership donors in your database now. 

They’re making gifts to you now.

In fact, they may be making multiple gifts to you over the course of the year (always something of which to be aware, as it’s a signal these folks love you).

But… they’re not giving you as much as they could.


  • You’re not paying them the right attention.
  • You’re not authentically thanking them enough.
  • You’re not generously reporting back to them on the impact of their philanthropy.
  • You don’t know enough about them, and how they prefer to be communicated with.
  • You don’t know what really floats their boat.
  • You’ve never reached out to them personally to attempt to put a face, or at least a personality, to their name.

Generally, you’re likely not making current mid-level donors feel good enough to want to become more deeply engaged and invested with you.

There are many ways to make donors feel good(ish), but there’s really only one way to ensure you get your share of the major gift philanthropy pie.

Prioritize Getting Out From Behind Your Desk

The best way to make most people feel good is up close and personal.

In fact, research from Kent Dove at the Indiana University Foundation found a paltry 1-2% of mailed appeals result in a gift. Just 25% of phone solicitations result in a gift. But… 75% of in-person asks result in a gift!

Okay. That still means you get about a quarter of folks declining your offer. And not everyone wants to be asked in person.  There’s no one-size-fits-all fundraising strategy.

But… there’s definitely a one-size-fits-most when it comes to winning major gifts!

You’d be nuts to ignore the outsized favorability of your odds when you simply meet folks face-to-face.

I want you to think about this seriously for a moment.

I know you may cringe at the idea of asking for a gift in person.

Or maybe you’re fine with the concept, but your board members hate it.

Get over it!

Get the visit and you’ll likely get the gift.

So said the late, great Jerrold Panas, major gift fundraiser extraordinaire. In fact, he found if you can get a visit with a donor, you have an 85% chance they’ll make the gift.

The very act of sitting by someone’s side works wonders.

So, please, prioritize getting donor visits this year.

Would you seriously go to Vegas and play the game with the very worst odds just because you were too lazy to learn to play the game that put the odds in your favor?

Okay, perhaps you would (it’s recreation and you don’t want to work at it) and that’s not a great analogy. However…

This is your job.

Whether you do it for pay or as a volunteer, people are relying on you to do this job as effectively as possible.

When you leave money on the table, people (or animals, places or ideals) suffer.

The world becomes a less just, caring, healthy, happy place.

And that, in a nutshell, is why you must resolve to prioritize genuine, personal, authentic major gift fundraising from individuals this year.

Need a little guidance?

1. Join Bloomerang and me for a free webinar, Major Gifts Fundraising on a Shoestring on January 7, 2020. We’ll discuss where to begin (even if your budget isn’t huge), which prospects to prioritize, how to develop and manage a major donor pipeline and cultivation plan, and how to get and stay organized so you reach your goals.

2. Enroll yourself and your team (up to six people per organization) in my 8-week Winning Major Gifts Strategies for the small and medium-size shop e-Course. I offer it just once or twice a year, and the 2020 course begins January 21st. Grab your spot NOW — before the course fills up.  Please take a minute to review the curriculum and see what your peers had to say about the course. Or contact me directly with any questions.

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.