Working your way up to major gifts

The best prospects for potential major gift are donors to your library’s annual fund drive. Start by reviewing the list of your regular donors. Anyone who has given regularly for at least five to ten years, and at a consistent level, is a prospect for a major gift.

What is a major gift? A major gift for these supporters would be a gift approximately ten times their average annual fund gift. For example, if a donor has given $100 every year for the last ten years, a request for a $1,000 contribution may be appropriate. To encourage a gift that is significantly higher than their usual donation amount, it’s important to explain to your donor:

  • Why you are asking
  • Why now
  • How the increased gift will help your library

Just as the annual fund can be used to help move donors from lower giving levels to major giving levels, major giving and consistent annual giving be used to help identify potential planned giving donors.

Four steps to major gift fundraising

1. Identification

During the donor identification stage, try to determine who has the ability and the potential to make a more substantial gift to your library. As you are looking at your list of potential donors, approach each name with the following questions in mind:

  • How connected are they to your library? Are they a library card holder? Are they involved in the library in a capacity beyond just checking out books for themselves? Do they volunteer? Do they volunteer in a leadership role?
  • Do they have a desire to give? Have they made any contributions to the library before? Do they respond with some regularity to your annual membership drive? Have they expressed their thoughts about an area of library that they would like to see improved? Do your funding needs overlap with their interests?
  • Do they have the capacity to give? This can be tricky – and this part of the process is often “more art than science”. Talk to volunteers who might know this donor on a personal level. Do they work or are they retired? Do they have children in college or about to enter college? Have they made significant contributions to other community organizations?

You can only approach a major gift if these elements are in place.

2. Cultivation

Once you have a manageable list of prospects, you can begin the cultivation process. At this stage, you are not concerned about asking for money. Your goal is to involve your prospects more closely with your library. Invite them to events, have them volunteer (if this is of interest to them), but most importantly talk with them to find out what the library means to them.

Which aspect of your library do they value most? How does the library impact their lives and those of their families? If there are ongoing projects your library is involved in that may be of interest to your donor, let him or her know about them. For example, your donor may be a first generation American, and your library may be known for having one of the best reading programs in the county for non-English speakers. If your prospect shows interest, be certain to provide him or her with follow-up information, including brochures, newspaper articles, etc. Keep a record of these activities and the information you share with each major gift prospect.

3. Solicitation

At this point, you will have identified some individuals who are interested and involved in your library, and who also have a capability to make a more significant donation. You will have spent time with several prospects (probably more with some, less with others), and you should have a good sense from a handful of them that they share your excitement about what your library has to offer. You will have talked with them about one or more specific programs that are running at your library, and they will have shared their interests and opinions with you. Presumably, you will have diligently recorded these insights in your donor records.

Now is the time to move these individuals from the group of prospects who are “to be cultivated” to the group that is “ready to be asked for a gift”. Ask them for a date and time to visit them at their home or their place of business. Know what you are asking for (which program, and how their gift will help make the program better), and how much you are asking for. With major gifts, always ask for a specific amount.

4. Stewardship

Congratulations! You have just secured a major gift for your library. You have taken your donors from the identification stage through the cultivation process to a successful solicitation. This is the point at which your generous contributor must being appropriately thanked for her or his support.

Remember the definition of stewardship in the previous section of this toolkit? It is the careful and responsible management of something entrusted to one’s care. In fundraising, it describes how an organization relates to donors after they have made their first gift. Effective stewardship involves thanking people appropriately, recognizing them and developing vehicles through which their relationship with your library can be deepened. The result of a deeper relationship can be a deeper level of giving. In an ideal world, stewardship inspires annual givers to become major givers, and major givers to become planned givers.

The donor cycle for planned and major gift fundraising

donor circle



Next: Developing Planned Gifts

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