How do you set up a major gifts program? What do you need in your “garden shed” to help cultivate it? You need tools, sunlight, plants, food, etc. When you recognize that gardening is hard work, (but it can be fun!) you will see that your major donor garden will flourish when you have all the right tools in place.
Your major donors are an important part of your organization’s success. We’re looking at those who make donations – not sponsorships or other transactional revenue – at the level you have determined constitutes a major gift.

Tools to Help with the Major Gift Process
The Donor Development Committee Process takes time to get up and running. It could be 3 – 6 months or sometimes more. Your planning and perseverance will pay off with good results. The purpose of the Committee is to help with donor engagement. This means sharing their donor intelligence. What do they know about your donors that will help you treat them like the individuals they are? Who on the list has more capacity to give? And who are they willing to help you with?
Other work of the Committee is to personally invite people to cultivation or engagement activities that have been identified as appropriate for that specific donor. When volunteers invite donors, the peer-to-peer response can be stronger than a simple invitation from the organization. Helping with personalized thank yous is also a responsibility of the Committee.

Recruiting the Committee
Getting the right people on the Donor Development Committee is vital to its success. Committee members are both donors (flowers in the garden) and also gardeners who help with cultivation. Loving your organization is not enough. You want those who are able and willing to help make connections and to interact with donors. A good Committee has a couple of Board members and some non-Board members as well – probably enthusiastic donors who are connected to existing donors or can help you expand your network. Because the cultivation process can take 12-18 months, it’s helpful to have your volunteers commit to at least a year with the Committee.

Now what?
Once you have the right people on the Committee, you must provide them with the tools they need to be effective volunteers. One of the best motivators is having a goal. Share with them your major gifts needs and have them help set a goal.

Major Giving Levels
Establishing major giving levels that show the impact of donations is very important for your organization and for the Committee members. Look at what a gift at $1,000 and other major gift levels can do for you. If you don’t already have this in place, the Committee can help with ideas, and it helps them to have buy in. Then develop a print piece to share. Once you have the levels and the print piece, determine how to launch the program. This could be at a luncheon or gala, in a target appeal, or at its own major donor event. This is a tool to be integrated into all places where you could be showing the need for impact giving at higher levels.

Cultivation Activities
Recognize that, like different kinds of flowers in your garden, donors will respond to different kinds of engagement opportunities. The Committee can help develop your menu of activities. The more personalized they are, the more effective they are likely to be. Some donors will enjoy group or social activities, while others will need more of a one-on-one approach. Here again, your volunteers can be very helpful in determining what kind of engagement will be needed for the donors they know.

Tend the Garden
Your garden of major donors will thrive when you give special care to them. Recognize them with unique thank yous. Engage them by putting them on committees or on your board. Be sure that they are on the list for hearing first when something new or exciting happens. Reinforce your brand with them at every opportunity. Make use of the tools and your Committee to extend your reach and build the relationships that will continue cultivating major gifts.