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Major Lessons for Reaching Major Donors

January 2001
By: Patrick McLaughlin
All of us in the business of discipling stewards (fund-raising) need to have in our comprehensive stewardship program a strategy for reaching major donors. Bigger dollar amounts add up faster; hence major donor work is very fruitful and exciting. Bear the following things in mind, and they will help you achieve maximum results.

No Plan--No Results. Yogi Berra said it best: "If you don't know where you are going, you will probably end up someplace else." You must have a plan. A good major donor program is a well-designed, relationally-driven strategy that can add immediate and future dollars to your ministry.

Exodus 25--A Major Donor Program That Worked. Moses identified those who could help him raise funds for the tabernacle. Quickly review the first elements requested in the project: gold, silver, and bronze. I believe those elements came from major donors from within the camp. Moses and Aaron worked from the top down to complete the first capital project mentioned in the Scriptures.

As you map out your major donor strategy, keep in mind "the Four Rs." Make sure that your plan includes each one.

1.Research. In most instances your organization has three basic types of donors: (1) paying--those who purchase goods and services your ministry offers; (2) giving--those who give to you on a regular basis; and (3) investing--those who have a lifetime relationship with your ministry and are involved in a present and future giving arrangement. Research begins with those who already know you and have invested in your present stewardship needs. Check out your current donor file, lapsed donors, board members, and contacts these people may know. Advisory board and former board members often have the ability to participate. Research potential contacts from the top down.
2.Relationship. Frankly speaking, this is where many programs fail in their major donor strategy. Two impediments to success are: moving too quickly in the relationship and waiting too long. Few, if any, of us asked our spouses to marry us on the first date, nor did we take ten years to pop the question. A major donor relationship is like a marriage. It's made up of love, trust, and commitment. No relationship --no marriage. No relationship--no major donor program.
Educate, cultivate, and motivate your potential major donor contacts by getting them better acquainted with your CEO and the mission and vision of your organization. As in a marriage, show them there is a plan for the future. Help them to understand and "own" a piece of your ministry. Build a relationship and invite them to "get married."
If you truly build the relationship and there is trust in the "marriage," donors will become a part of your development team. Most major donors know others who have the ability to become major donors. Encourage them to host a small group briefing or to invite a friend to visit your ministry.
3.Request. Who does the asking is the primary reason people give. The primary reason people do not give to your ministry is that they have not been asked or that they have not been asked properly.
As you draw close to proposing, you need to ask a couple of questions of yourself. How should your donor be asked? How much should we ask the donor to consider? Timing is critical for your donor, not just for you and your ministry. The place is also important, as he should be asked on his turf, if possible, not on yours. A neutral place will also work. Experience and research will be great teachers, but someone has to flat out ask the donor to give. No heavenly hinting. Just as you asked your spouse for a commitment, you need to make that request of the donor.
4.Recognition. Follow up and follow through with every major donor contact. This is critical to ongoing success in your program. Say "thank you" and really mean it! You could hand deliver the receipt and engrave his name on a new Bible or book. Continue to deepen the relationship between the donor and your ministry. Imagine never telling that spouse how special he or she is or that you really love and appreciate him or her. It is the same with major donors; they must know that they are loved and truly appreciated.

Your ultimate goal is a long and happy marriage with your major donors. You can achieve that by consistently employing the four Rs. Don't think that major donors will not give to your center. In Texas, Carol Everett received a $50,000 gift last year for her ministry by using the four Rs.

Begin today to lay the foundation for a long and happy marriage with your major donors--one that will allow them to invest in the most important ministry in the world...Life.

Pat McLaughlin serves as president of The Timothy Group and is a specialist in relational fund-raising, including major donor contacts, events, and capital campaigns.

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