Your major donors are an important part of your organization’s success. Making a Major Gift ask is the culmination of thoughtful planning and strategic actions. You will have the most success if you have worked through the entire process of building and implementing a Major Gifts process. It’s important to connect your Major Gifts program to the organization’s strategic vision, to set goals within your development plan and commit to the discipline of building relationships with major donors. Your garden of donors will respond favorably if you have built and made use of the appropriate toolkit for staff and volunteers.

Tools to Help with the Major Gift Process
Each organization has its own unique garden of donors, with individual preferences for how they want to be connected to your mission. The Major Gift process will help you give them the individual attention they deserve. Striving to customize a cultivation path for each donor is the key to success. Putting in place a leveled giving program, building a committee of connected volunteers, and creating a menu of cultivation activities is worthy of investing your time. 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 your Major Gifts needs with the committee and have them help set a goal.

Getting the Appointment
It can take 12-18 months to cultivate a donor to the level where they are ready for a Major Gift ask. Use your volunteers to help make connections and learn about donors’ preferences in communication style and frequency. Make sure you are reaching out to them with multiple customized “touches” throughout the year. This includes newsletters, phone calls, invitations to events, handwritten notes, and personal meetings. Make them feel like insiders by sharing important news directly with them before it goes out to the rest of your donor base. Use all the tools available to build the relationship, so when you ask for the appointment, they will be receptive.

Preparing for the Meeting
Careful planning for the ask itself is very important. Be sure the materials have accurate name and address information and that you have enough copies, so no one has to share. Confirm the appointment with all who will be attending the meeting. Review your plan for the meeting flow and prepare your “ask partner” if you have one, with all relevant information about the donor. Determine who will make the ask based on the relationship and comfort of you and your volunteer or staff partner. The amount should be well planned, based on the goal and cultivation steps. If you don’t know the amount, you aren’t ready to make the ask. Practice your part so you will feel comfortable and smooth in your delivery.

And Now for the Ask
The time has come and you’re in the meeting with your donor. All your planning and preparation have positioned you for the best possible results. Start with some questions to get the donor talking. Listen to them carefully for cues about their interests and concerns. If they have questions that you cannot answer, it’s fine to say: “I don’t know the answer to that right now, but I will get back to you” (you just created another touch point and built trust through being transparent). Once you determine the moment is right, make the ask as a direct request for the agreed upon amount. Know that you’re giving them an opportunity to support something they care about, so don’t be apologetic. Then wait for them to respond. Train yourself to be okay in the silence while they’re considering your request. It’s very important to not “talk them out” of the gift by filling the silence with chatter or remarks such as “if that’s too much, whatever you give is fine.” While you have spent months preparing for this meeting, they have not and may be mentally reviewing other commitments, whether they should check in with their accountant, or discuss it with a spouse. Once you have their answer, be appreciative of their time and let them know you will be following up in the agreed upon manner. Follow up with a thank you note regardless of the results.

By following these Best Practices of careful relationship building and planning, your Major Gifts asks will net positive results and help support your organization’s mission.