I met a development director in a one-person fundraising shop this morning. He had been in his job for 11 years. He said that he and his boss had spoken many times about starting a major gifts program, but it kept getting swept away by more urgent (though less important) things. He asked me where to start. Here was my advice to him:
- Begin with a manageable prospect list. If you can only handle 5 prospects, that’s a great beginning.
- Measure success before the money starts coming in. Building relationships takes time. It can’t be rushed. So avoid discouragement by tracking your progress in non-financial terms. Getting board members to do thank you calls. Getting a board member to host a house party. Getting program staff to describe their work to donors at a tour. Getting 100% giving from your board. All of these are important prerequisites to the first big ask. So celebrate when they happen.
- Look at your calendar through a donor cultivation lens. Do you do an annual gala? Invite prospective major donors to come as your guests, and assign a board member to escort each of them through the event. Do you have in-house celebrations, like graduations, that you could invite prospects to witness? Could your prospects address your students/clients on an area of their expertise? Using the opportunities presented by your existing calendar, you can draw your best prospects closer without a lot of extra effort.
I hope this is helpful. Start where you are. Do what you can. Use what you have.