Erin Hall
Erin Hall

5 Major Gift Fundraising Tactics to Apply Online

There are tried and true fundraising best practices nearly every development director abides by when soliciting major gifts. For some reason when it comes to fundraising online, however, we tend to believe there’s a different set of rules to follow. The truth is, best practices are exactly that—best practices, and the good news is they are transferrable. Below are five lessons from the offline world that you can and should apply to the virtual world as well.

1. People Give More Generously to Those They Trust

Let’s say your board chair is a good friend of the CEO of a fortune 500 company. You know he has the means to make a million dollar gift to your capital campaign and he really seems to believe in your mission. How would you go about the solicitation? Would you send him a letter from your executive director asking for a million dollars, or would you ask your board chair to make an in person ask to his friend? I bet you chose the latter. An in person ask from a personal friend is more likely to result in a million dollar gift rather than a letter sent from your executive director.

Peer-to-peer fundraising banks on the same thinking. When your peer-to-peer fundraiser asks their friends and family to support their personal fundraising efforts for your organization, you’re more likely to get their support because of the personal connection they have with the solicitor. A direct appeal from someone a potential donor knows and trusts is more likely to result in more frequent and generous gifts.

2. Tell Your Story in Relation to a Donor’s Interests

Ideally, you have notes on the areas of interest for all of your major donors in your donor management database. Most likely you use this info to help you keep these donors updated on the work you do in the areas they care most about. When it comes time to make your annual appeal, you once again reference this information and talk directly to their specific area of interest, appealing to what they like about your work and in the process helping to ensure their support.

This shouldn’t be any different for a virtual appeal. Just as you would do with a major donor offline, make your e-appeal to an individual donor as personal as possible. Develop personas for your smaller donors and segment your appeals in such a way that lets you tell your story by speaking to their interests. Send them content and updates on the programs you know they care about or are interested in to set the stage for future appeals. This does not mean you have to restrict your fundraising efforts to the issue the donor cares most about; it just means you need to think of how you’re telling your story to appeal to their specific interest in the work you do.

3. Cultivate Before You Ask and Steward Before You Ask Again

You would never ask a major gift prospect to give you $100,000 right after you shake their hand..You first want to bring the prospect more into the fold of your organization, educate them on the work you do, and brief them specifically about the project or initiative you would like for them to support. The same is true with stewarding major donors. Right after a major donor pledges $100,000, you don’t turn around a month later and ask for another $100,000 gift. The reason for that is you know you need to properly thank the donor, celebrate their generosity, and most importantly demonstrate the impact of their gift.

Nonprofits often get new email addresses from website traffic, an event, or via a peer-to-peer fundraising campaign and immediately throw them into their general email list. That list has everything on it: newsletter updates, special announcements, and appeals. Just like the major donor example above, someone who is brand new to your organization probably isn’t ready to support you with a donation. They first need to be educated on the work you do and engaged so they start to feel like part of your community.

The same is true with stewarding online donors. The number one way to get someone to unsubscribe to your emails or to stop opening them is by over asking. Before you ask a donor to give again make sure you have sufficiently thanked them for their gift and demonstrated the impact of their previous investment. Just as in major gifts, if you do this well you’re more likely to get them to give again. Ignore these important steps and you risk losing a potential lifelong donor.

4. Challenge Them to Give Something Extraordinary

Have you ever asked a prospect for what you believe is a big gift for them and had them respond positively without hesitation? “Yes! Of course I’d be happy to give you $50,000!” Well, that’s great, you got exactly what you asked them for, but the purpose of a major gift, especially during a capital campaign, is to challenge a donor to give something extraordinary. Something special. Something they’re stretching themselves to do. If they agree on the spot to give you exactly what you asked for, you’re probably leaving money on the table.

When it comes to online fundraising, nonprofits often set their appeal radio buttons to something in the middle of the road since they’re planning to push out a specific appeal to a wide audience. Instead, create multiple donation forms for the same campaign and push that appeal out to different segments of donors. This will usually result in higher gifts. For donors who have given you $500 or more, send an online appeal with radio buttons set to start at higher amounts (start at $250) than you would for donors who give an average gift of $100 (start at $75). Challenge them to consider a bigger gift by putting in front of them amounts you know are a stretch but that are still attainable for each type of donor. This way, you can be sure you don’t leave money on the table.

5. Be Direct

When soliciting a major gift, you never get what you want from the donor if you dance around the topic. For example, which is the more powerful ask below?

A. “Jane, today I’m asking you to show your support for this campaign by giving whatever you can.”
B. “Jane, today I’m asking you to show your support for this campaign with a gift of $10,000.”

The latter, right? A direct ask gives Jane a better idea of the kind of support you want from her and takes the guessing out of the equation.

An online appeal should be just as direct. Rather than asking donors to give whatever they can, challenge them to support you with a gift of X. They might decide to give you more or give you less, but you are starting the conversation with a clear and direct intention of what you want from them. In the end, you’re more likely to get the gift you’re looking for if you just tell your donors what you want.

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