Every community has a few established nonprofits that are raising big money and are super respected. Every community has hundreds of nonprofits just barely getting by. The established and successful nonprofits have robust annual programs that feed a developed major gifts program. Their major gifts program brings in the bulk of the dollars and the annual program maintains a base of supporters.
Most nonprofits start through an annual fund effort. A new organization will spend a lot of its time sending out direct mail and getting in the rhythm of connecting with their donors through a few appeals every year. Eventually you have your fall and spring appeals but most of your money is coming in through your year-end appeal. Annual fundraising is about the science of engaging a large number of people on a regular basis.
Once you’ve built a successful annual fund program you start to see some larger gifts start to emerge. At this time you have a choice. Many organizations choose to continue to engage these donors through mailings and miss an opportunity to develop relationships that could grow into a significant investment in your nonprofit. Over the longterm major gifts will always have a better ROI than the costly mailings of an annual fund program. Established organizations have figured out that their financial health depends largely on a successful major gifts program.
Every nonprofit needs both an annual and major gifts program. You need an annual program to acquire new major gifts donors. The major gifts program thrives on building relationships and is crucial to raising the funds needed to remain sustainable. Major gifts is less about science and more about the art of relationships.
If you want to make the jump from surviving to thriving, invest in building relationships with your major donors. Make time on your weekly calendar to take a donor out for coffee, send a personalized email, or pick up the phone and say thank you.