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First Steps Toward Major Gift Fundraising

Nonprofit organizations working to move beyond start-up to full-fledged operation find themselves with lots of unanswered questions.  And many of those questions relate to fundraising.  What’s the best way for us to raise money for our cause?  Whom do we ask?  How do we best make our case? Why is this so much tougher than we thought when we first incorporated and got our IRS tax-exempt status?

Yes.  It’s not easy being green.  Which is why so many newly-formed nonprofits struggle and many get abandoned.  We read about fabulous campaigns like the Museum of Fine Arts in Boston and their hugely successful $500 million campaign for their Art of the Americas wing. And then there’s the humongous Pan Mass Challenge that raises multi-millions each year for the Jimmy Fund, a Boston-based organization raising money for the Dana Farber Cancer Institute.  So some of us get stars in our eyes from all this huge success and take various stabs at the “Big Show” only to find it ain’t at all easy.

So what are we to do?   Well, it starts with a good plan and then with fabulous execution.  That’s all. Simple as that.

To get going, here are some steps I recommend:

  • Outline a strategic plan that’s build on a well-articulated mission
  • Understand the demographics of the people we’re helping (primary customers) and the people who’ll help us (supporting customers)
  • Draw up a five-year fundraising plan that anticipates reasonable growth, year-to-year
  • Fundamental to that fundraising plan:
  1.    Preparing a donor prospect list and outline our donor database
  2.    Develop an annual appeal to our prospects, anticipating growth of the donor base year-to-year
  3.    Identify one or two special events we feel will generate growing net revenue each year
  4.    Begin to form a development committee, drawing from our Board and outside volunteers who “get” fundraising
  5.    Expect by Year 5 that we’ll be ready to launch a major gift campaign that will fill a big unmet need of our customer base

It will take good organization, a commitment to top-notch execution, to make this work.  Build it from the ground up.  If you can demonstrate the value you bring to those who require your services, and the community sees the value in what you’re up to, they’ll reach for their wallets and checkbooks and credit cards to help make this vision reality.  But you’ll have to build it, step-by-step, to realize it.

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2 Responses to “First Steps Toward Major Gift Fundraising”

  • Great overview. As a communications pro, I would incorporate clear and consistent messaging throughout the process. Always invite your PR/communications staff into the conversation as planning begins and continue in a partnership throughout the campaign.

  • Agree completely, Cindy. Having the input of communications professionals when organizing any significant campaign is vital! As solicitors head out the door on calls to prospective donors. Being clear on the message is essential. And having professional guidance in crafting those messages puts that nonprofit ahead of the game!

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