The title of the article, which is “How to Create a Major Giving Program: Steps for Nonprofits,” over an image representing nonprofit donations.

How to Create a Major Giving Program: 5 Steps for Nonprofits


From digital marketing strategies to direct mail outreach to elaborate events, nonprofits are always working to capture donor attention and collect much-needed support. And with 88% of fundraising revenue coming from 12% of donors, your organization must focus its efforts on major donors.

Cultivating major gift donors isn’t the same as general donor stewardship. For both, comprehensive donor management software is crucial. However, a specialized and structured major gifts program offers some added benefits, such as wealth screening, and can directly impact your ability to acquire and retain these donors.

Let’s explore five steps your nonprofit can take to create a major giving program.

1. Set a major gift range

Major gifts are the largest donations a nonprofit receives, meaning the specific amount that quantifies a major donation depends on your organization’s unique fundraising revenue and average gift size.

To define major gifts for your organization, follow these steps:

  1. Analyze donor history. Use donation data collected by your fundraising platform to determine a major gift threshold by analyzing your organization’s largest donations. Consider calculating the average of the highest 15% of donation amounts to determine what the typical major gift looks like.
  2. Create a gift range chart. This strategic tool can help nonprofits plan how to reach a specific goal. It takes a large goal and breaks it down into manageable gift levels or tiers, then breaks those down into the number of gifts and prospects needed. This helps nonprofits plan targeted fundraising campaigns to bring in donors at the levels they need to reach the goal.
  3. Evaluate external factors. We know that the best-laid plans can encounter unexpected bumps, and nonprofit fundraising is no different. Whether political or economic changes or natural disasters impact donors’ abilities to grant major gifts, ensure you’ve got enough leeway in your plans to account for obstacles.

Once you’ve determined the minimum amount that constitutes a major gift for your organization, set realistic goals for how much your organization aims to raise through its program.

2. Appoint major gifts officers

Next, your nonprofit must assign the responsibility of acquiring major gifts to specific individuals within your organization’s leadership. While you may already have professional fundraisers on board to push your charity auctions or clothing drives forward, a major gift program requires the expertise of an individual who can cultivate larger gift amounts and steward potential donors.

Major gift officers (MGOs) play a critical role in procuring these significant donations. They must identify candidates and cultivate and maintain relationships with them, ensuring they’re recognized appropriately for their gifts.

MGOs work closely with the board, executive director, and director of development. Increased collaboration is important because major gifts can form the foundation of a nonprofit’s fundraising. It takes a team of key players to build and nurture these relationships!

3. Identify major giving prospects

Most donors aren’t candidates for major giving; identifying the right prospects can be tricky. Fortunately, technology exists that can point you in the right direction. Once you’ve identified those with the means and demonstrated inclination to donate major gifts, you can begin forming human connections and nurturing the relationships.

According to Double the Donation’s prospect research guide, there are two primary data points nonprofits must analyze to identify major giving prospects:

    • Philanthropic indicators: Those who regularly and significantly donate to your cause or other nonprofits’ causes likely have an affinity for your cause. In other words, major giving prospects are those who have demonstrated philanthropic activity in the past. You likely have major givers right in your community!
    • Wealth indicators: These are publicly available holdings, such as stocks, real estate, or other assets. A person’s employer and title can be wealth indicators, as can past major philanthropic gifts and political contributions. Technology that combs the internet for wealth indicators can save your team significant research.

Holistic nonprofit fundraising software will offer the tools needed to track major giving opportunities and manage prospects, ensuring you don’t miss any candidates. For example, such a tool might not only help you track potential donors but also launch a multichannel campaign to reach them. The more often your team engages with its prospects, the easier it is to qualify them and identify solid candidates.

4. Determine your cultivation approach

CharityEngine’s guide to nonprofit donations calls major gifts “the byproduct, or result, of a strong relationship with a donor.” In other words, your nonprofit must put a lot of effort into stewarding relationships with potential major donors to cultivate the gift.

Create a plan for cultivating major gifts so your team has a standardized approach when contacting potential donors. This plan may include:

  • Personalizing your outreach: Personalization is critical for deepening donor relationships. You can address emails to recipients by name or use their names when you call them. Also, keep track of special occasions to wish them a happy birthday or celebrate their anniversary of involvement with your nonprofit.
  • Engaging prospects through multiple touchpoints: Reaching out through different channels with tailored messaging can ensure you reach donors with various communication preferences.

If your nonprofit contacts its prospect list, you’ll know that recipients are likely capable and willing to give major gifts. This means your cultivation efforts must truly resonate with recipients to inspire them to take action.

For example, donors who previously showed interest in fundraisers supporting animals may be excited to provide larger gifts for building a new facility for their local animal shelter. In this case, it’s up to the nonprofit to communicate the need for major gifts and compel prospects to give.

5. Prepare major donor appreciation strategies

It’s more difficult—and costly—to find a new major donor than keep one you’ve already got. When your whole team strategizes to keep major donors engaged for the long term, you’re certain to be successful.

Your approach to donor retention should always start with adequate appreciation. Here are a few appreciation ideas to get you started:

  • Personalized thank-you letters or cards: Personalized thank-yous are necessary for all donations. They help deepen the donor relationship, show your appreciation, and foster goodwill. But don’t skip this step when it comes to your biggest donors! It’s even more important that you start with a heartfelt note. You can include an automated thank you with your emailed donation receipt. Still, a handwritten card from your nonprofit will punctuate your thanks and ensure the donor feels seen and appreciated.
  • Exclusive events or opportunities: If you have a gala, reserve a table for your largest donors as a way to thank them. Plan a luncheon with board members where they will learn more about your mission and how their donations help. If you have access to a report you can share, this might also convey appreciation.
  • Customized progress reports and impact updates: It’s advisable to have a separate communications plan for major donors. These notes can include custom reports on campaign progress or impact updates from the front lines of your mission. These outreach efforts will serve the dual purpose of having a donor who receives special treatment and one who is even more educated about how donations help the cause.

Donor cultivation and retention are a cornerstone of every nonprofit’s fundraising efforts. When you break out major gift donors and think about the different interactions that might compel them to stay connected, you’ll have a long-term plan that keeps communication open and engagement lively.