6. Plan Individual Campaigns with Your Most Capable Donors

A successful capital campaign is a series of small, individual campaigns customized for ten to one hundred of your most capable donors. If you have not caught this yet, catch it now. Major donors can and will carry the day in your capital campaign. Bigger dollars add up faster. Five-figure gifts are very important to any campaign; six-figure gifts are even more important. But seven-figure gifts really get you rolling toward campaign fulfillment.

Lakeland Christian School in Florida had never received a seven-figure gift. They created a strategic ministry plan, starting with defining their preferred future―what they wanted to build to ensure and enhance their future. There was some rolling of the eyes, and then they jotted down some huge numbers, almost ten times their previous campaign goal. The next step was to conduct a pre-campaign study to identify who might be able to give at the six- to-seven-figure level. They identified, asked for, and secured five seven-figure gifts and several six-figure contributions. Steve Wilson, the advancement director, and the campaign team secured two gifts of $2,000,000; three gifts of $1,000,000; two gifts of $500,000; and three gifts of $250,000. That is a very strong top-ten donor list!

Steve, headmaster Dr. Mike Sligh, and the campaign team did an excellent job of creating a series of small mini-campaigns designed specifically for select high-capacity donor prospects and suspects. Steve personalized some individual proposals to the point of even including the names of children and grandchildren. He even got inspired one evening and, by burning the midnight oil, created a personalized naming opportunity for a brand new million-dollar-capacity donor. The proposal called for a naming opportunity for the donor and a very close friend who had helped him make millions in their joint business careers.

Steve and his team of volunteers are still soliciting gifts in the high six- and seven-figure category. He continues to look at ways to get specific in each of those major-donor requests. Steve understood this principle and worked it to near perfection. He is very willing to vary the pitch. No conundrums in their campaign!

In your pre-campaign study, your top ten donors should account for one third of your campaign goal. Ask the tough questions upfront. Who are those donors? How well do you know then? Can you call them and schedule a personal appointment in a week or so? Treat each major-donor prospect and suspect as a mini-campaign. Define their hot buttons and invite them to give in their areas of interest and passion. Clearly define in their individualized proposals what you have determined excites those major donors and causes them to “pound the table” with excitement. Now this all assumes you have those major-donor relationships. If you have not built and enhanced those relationships, you may need to identify that potential campaign conundrum. Back up, extend your campaign planning a bit, and build those relationships. Look at who personally knows those major donors and can connect you. Practice the six R’s of major donor strategy: Research, Relationship, Request, Recognize, Recruit, and Report.

  1. Research. Who do you know? The top ten gifts to your campaign will most likely come from donors who have had long term relationships with your organization. Dig into the donor list to uncover hidden donors. Namestorm a list of church members, Christian business leaders, and family members who could give if they understood the opportunity. When you have identified your individual prospect, research everything you can about their giving interests and connection to your ministry.
  2. Relationship. Donors need time to consider a gift. Building donor relationships is a marathon, not a sprint. That’s why it’s imperative to start now. You don’t ask someone to marry you on the first date. Has your prospect been properly cultivated for this ask? What information do they need about your organization to make an informed giving decision? How can you draw them closer to your mission and vision? Who else from your organization should your prospective donor meet?
  3. Request. Major donors want to know what you want. Ask for a specific gift based upon the donor’s interests. Think about why you are asking for money in the first place. Reconnect them with your organization’s mission and why you are involved. Your passion and commitment for the cause is one of the most important influences on your prospect. Share personal impact stories your ministry has made in the lives of those you serve. Focus on the benefit, the impact, and vision.
  4. Recognize. It’s critical that donors be thanked appropriately and often. Regardless of their response follow up within 24 hours with a handwritten thank you card. If they committed to an amount, send a confirmation letter. Remember, securing a successful gift is a combination of the right person asking the right prospect the right amount for the right purpose and in the right way.
  5. Recruit. Expand your donor development team by asking your current donors to identify others who could join them in partnering with you. The strongest asks are peer to peer. Would your donor open the door to his or her circle of influence? Would they become a champion for your cause? Would they host a donor gathering in their home and invite friends to hear a presentation?
  6. Report. Some organizations take the gift and never talk to the donor again. Silence is a critical error. Continue to update donors on your progress. You should steward your donors with seven unique touches annually: a visit, a tour, prompt thank yous, personal stories about your successes, newsletter, annual report, personal calls, etc.

    Your campaign will move forward one conversation at a time. Focus on your key donors and present your giving opportunity with confidence.


About the Author: Pat McLaughlin President/Founder – Pat started The Timothy Group in 1990 to serve Christian ministries as they raise money to advance their missions. TTG has assisted more 1,800 Christian organizations around the world with capital, annual, and endowment campaigns. More than 25,000 of Pat’s books, Major Donor Game Plan, The C Factor: The Common Cure for your Capital Campaign Conundrums, and Haggai & Friends have helped fundraisers understand the art and science of major donor engagement. Pat makes more than one hundred major donor visits annually and provides counsel to multiple capital campaigns.

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