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Stay the Course to Raise Major Gifts

May 2014

Do you want to raise major gifts for your nonprofit, but feel held back by lack of know-how, courage, or time?

The good news is that those first two obstacles are fairly easy to overcome. You can learn how to raise major gifts fairly easily by reading books (and/or blogs) and taking classes.

As for lack of courage (aka fear of fundraising), the best way to overcome it is practice—practice sessions with your board, staff, and volunteers, and by looking at each major gift ask as an opportunity to practice.

So don't let lack of know-how or fear of fundraising hold you back—I've worked with plenty of people who overcame either (or both!) of these challenges quite easily.

The lack of time excuse, on the other hand, is a tricky one; particularly if you're dealing with it in addition to, say, fear of fundraising. After all, that mountain of paperwork and the next mailing, while routine and boring, can look pretty inviting when you compare them with overcoming fear!

But the fact remains that the most cost-effective way to raise money is by implementing a major gifts program. The good news, though, is that major gift fundraising also takes less time than, say, putting together big events.

The only way, however, to achieve a successful major gifts program is to work on it consistently, every week, 52 weeks a year (minus your vacation time, of course!).

In other words, you have to stay the course in order to boost your nonprofit's bottom line with major gifts.

But don't despair! You don't have to hire extra staff or add 20 hours to your already-overworked week to make major gifts happen. In fact, you—yes, you—can raise major gifts in only five hours a week.

That's right. Just five hours a week. But as I said above, a successful major gifts program means setting aside five hours every week.

So how are you going to do it? Here are my five top tips for consistently setting aside the time you'll need to raise major gifts:

  1. Get buy-in from your staff, board, and other volunteers—and then ask for their support. As you'll learn, you aren't going to raise this money by yourself; a successful major gifts program depends on the active participation of your board, executive director, and development director. By getting them (and the rest of your staff) enthused about the possibilities first, though, you'll also be able to ask for support in other ways, which leads to ...
  2. Delegate! You've made it clear that you'll be able to help significantly boost your organization's ability to change and save lives through raising major gifts. Your board, staff, and other volunteers are excited about the possibilities. Great! This means that you now have leverage to ask a volunteer to help organize the next bulk mail project, for example, or to ask a member of your board to take the lead on an event.
  3. Set aside your major gifts work time on your calendar. Do this for weeks in advance, and be sure to share this information with your staff, volunteers, and board. In other words, let them know that you shouldn't be interrupted from 9 to 10 a.m. each day, because you'll be working on major gifts!
  4. Evaluate your priorities. Do you really need to attend every meeting you have scheduled for the next month? Are you the only person in your organization who can reliably enter donor information in your database? Before you can delegate you need to be clear about which tasks you simply must do, which are okay to pass along to someone else, and which ones you're able to let go.
  5. Take care of yourself. Yes, I know, virtually every consultant emphasizes the importance of self-care (including time off). So why mention it here? Because implementing a brand-new program, particularly a major gifts program, is stressful, and stress makes it harder to raise money—particularly major gifts. Taking care of and pacing yourself as though you're running a marathon (which, in a very real way, you are), will allow you to stay the course and succeed.

For more detailed information on starting and implementing a major gifts program, visit my blog and the Major Gifts Challenge.

Amy Eisenstein, ACFRE, Tri Point Fundraising
© 2014, Tri Point Fundraising

Amy Eisenstein, ACFRE, is a leading fundraising consultant, speaker, and coach who has taught hundreds of people how to raise major gifts. Her latest book, Major Gifts for Small Shops, covers how to defeat the fear of fundraising, how to find time for and stay the course with major gifts, and other proven advice for creating and sustaining a successful major gift program.

Note: The views expressed in this article are those of the author and may or may not represent GuideStar's opinions. GuideStar is committed to providing a range of topics and perspectives to our users. We make every effort to obtain articles from knowledgeable, trustworthy sources, but we make no warranties or representations with regard to content provided by persons outside GuideStar.

Amy Eisenstein

Amy Eisenstein