16621146_mDue to cuts in government funding, many nonprofits and social enterprises need to develop other ways to raise money. Developing and creating a major gift program is an excellent strategy that can yield results to help ensure organizational sustainability.


Determine who within the organization will be key leadership involved in developing a major gift program. The CEO or executive director should certainly be involved, as well as board members. In addition, an organization should be clear who will have the responsibility within the organization for the program development. Will it be the chief fundraiser or an outside consultant? This individual will be entrusted to develop and rate the prospect list, inform and advise on strategy, prepare proposals and ensure all administrative support is provided.

Prospect List and Prioritization

Develop a prospect list that identifies key loyal current donors who could further assist your efforts. Then work your way out. As you develop the list, make sure you include reasons for inclusion and a potential “ask” amount based on research. Understand that research is always ongoing and the list should never be static. However, when you have a good working list completed, then set out to prioritize and “rate” your prospects. In other words, determine whom you will be approaching first, second and so on. Work with those potential prospects that are closest to you and move out from that point.

Case Statement

Hopefully, you have already developed your case for support. Make sure you are able to compile this information into a compelling, but interesting document that you will eventually present to your prospects. Today organizations create beautiful digital slide presentations that they talk through when meeting with an individual and could then follow-up by sending it to them via email. Any hard-copy material should be professional looking and of high quality.


Specific ongoing activities to be implemented and overseen by a staff point person are the following:

  • Managing the program on a day-to-day basis, including data entry and developing a moves management system so fundraisers can know what stage of the cultivation process each prospect is in at any given time.
  • Developing a major gift portfolio(s) for major gift solicitors and defining the number and level of prospects that will be in the cultivation, solicitation and stewardship stage at any point per fundraiser.
  • Developing individualized cultivation and solicitation strategies for each major gift prospect. This may include individual meetings with high-level prospects and/or an event or series of events in donors’ homes or executive offices. Determination of the actual strategy that will be implemented is typically developed after the research has informed fundraisers about who the prospects are and if there are any relationships that may exist.
  • Identifying and training volunteers for effective cultivation and solicitation opportunities.
  • Participating, as appropriate, in meetings and/or small cultivation events; creating donor recognition and stewardship strategies.
  • Developing and coordinating cultivation and communications events such as small receptions and dinners, as needed.
  • Developing an ongoing communications effort for donors and prospects, which would include a regular, electronic email that reports on organizational progress, projects and

Major donors are a wonderful way to bring revenue into your organization. Remember, individuals make the majority of gifts to all of philanthropy. So, it’s well worth establishing a good major gift program. It may take time and effort, but it’s a sound investment.


Author of “The Rise and Fail of Charities In the 21st Century: How The Nonprofit World Is Changing And What You Can Do To Be Ready”.


© 2015 Wayne Elsey and Not Your Father’s Charity. All Rights Reserved.