Major Gift

6 Stages of a Major Gift Prospect

The key to a successful major giving program is planning. From the very beginning, your fundraising success relies on strategy and relationship management. Supporters of your organisation are not major donors by chance; it’s the hard work you put into each stage of the prospecting process that achieves a strategic outcome.

After managing a portfolio of over fifty major donors in a previous role, it was clear to me: there’s a science to fundraising. The moves management process was central to more accurately forecasting my prospect pipeline. Here are the 6 stages – or cycles – a major gift officer follows to convert a prospect into a major giver.

1. Identification
The first stage to major giving is finding potential donors. This stage is important because the quality of your prospect list will determine the effectiveness of your subsequent fundraising efforts. Usually, this starts with looking for anyone who has made a significant gift in the past. Using this data, you can identify prospect activity and any opportunities for securing a significant gift in the future.

2. Research
The research stage is where biographical information comes into play. To know that your proposal will be successful, you need to know as much as you can about the prospect, including their relationships, their work history, their religious and community involvement, their education, and giving history. For this stage it is critical to have a data management system that can capture a robust set of useful information.

3. Strategy
Once you’ve done the groundwork, assign a prospect manager (it may be you) to take things over from here. This is the stage where we determine the major giver’s current and future position to give, including their funding purpose, the expected amount and date you should ask for the gift. Your strategy will involve planning 5-7 actions designed to guide the prospect towards giving.

4. Cultivation
Cultivation is all about communication, refining your strategy and digging deep into your data. At this stage, the fundraising team may be involved in reporting and adding to the major donor’s profile. This is where all the data you collected in your research pays off, as you will use it to tailor and personalise interactions. Any interaction that you have with the potential major donor, such as a supporter engagement event, phone call, email or a meeting, should be entered on that donor’s record. From here, you can update where the donor is in the giving cycle (and whether they will move on to the next stage).

5. Solicitation
In planning your strategy, you worked out how you would make the ask – now it’s time. Once your prospect has passed through the cycle and reached the Solicitation stage, arrange a meeting to ask the donor to invest in your organisation’s mission. If the proposal is successful, you will need to create a gift record which can be linked to the proposal.

6. Stewardship
Your prospect is now a Major Giver! Create a stewardship plan of actions linked to the proposal, starting with a recognition for the gift (e.g. a thank you letter, a call from the CEO). Formalise how the major giver would like to be contacted in the future about how their major gift is being used for good within the organisation. Make sure to update them on projects, invite them to events and build a solid relationship in the hope your major giver can pass through the prospecting cycle time and time again!