Do You Have a Major Gift Fundraising Campaign? How We Helped One Nonprofit Optimize Its Program

In the nonprofit arena, most of us understand that major gifts can fund critical programs and services, as well as solidify an organization’s financial base.

And the return on your investment of time and energy can be considerably higher with major gifts when compared to other fund-generators like special events and mailings.

So why don’t all nonprofits press forward with a major gift fundraising campaign? Often, it’s because the effort and time to develop one is more than many believe they can spare. However, by teaming up with a seasoned partner, like IPM Advancement, it’s actually not as difficult as it may seem.


A Peek Into the Real World

Based on our recent experiences working with one, well known nonprofit, here is a peek at the process and the steps we took to help this organization enhance its current major gifts fundraising program. The project involved four phases, including:

  • Phase 1 — Program Audit and Assessment;
  • Phase 2 — Findings and Recommendations;
  • Phase 3 — Program Set-up and Training; and,
  • Phase 4 — Active Program Management.

Together, some of the key goals included helping the organization to:

  • Define and create a new, user-friendly system for development officer portfolios.
  • Establish moves management system and individual/team workflows.
  • Provide expertise on cultivation/solicitation/stewardship and portfolio management.
  • Leverage fresh Wealth Engine assessment data.
  • Hold individual development officers more accountable.
  • Build a sense of team among all staff.
  • Prepare the staff and board for capital campaign fundraising success.


Our "Two-Cents"

Initially, we provided an assessment of this organization’s major gifts program while simultaneously applying appropriate, immediate course corrections to help streamline and improve the program, as well as build more confidence in the development staff.

Essentially, this process provided IPM Advancement with the information needed to introduce better processes and systems to strengthen the nonprofit’s major gifts program. And perhaps more importantly, the assessment provided insight into the individual skills and areas desperate for improvement.

Next, we presented our findings to the nonprofit’s leaders, along with numerous recommendations. Here are a few examples of our findings:

  • The organizational structure of this nonprofit’s major gifts team was a weak point. The five members of the team all reported directly to one leader, which stretched this person’s role beyond capacity, leaving the team without a true understanding of their goals.
  • Their staffing level was inadequate to successfully manage and leverage existing donors – and potential prospects – added by Wealth Engine. We also found that, overall, the staff was passionate and capable, yet had minimal levels of skill and experience in moves management.
  • We also focused on their antiquated database approach. During the assessment, we found that donor records were kept in multiple databases across the major gifts, corporate, event and walker universes. We suggested that, instead, they establish a single-source database for all fundraising efforts in order to achieve effective relationship management and foster cross-departmental collaboration.


You’ve Got This!

Here are just a few of the many recommendations we shared with this nonprofit:

  • Overhaul the board major gifts committee into a team that’s more open to working with staff and with each other.
  • Create a donor prospect committee with board, major donor, event and corporate fundraising staff to build comprehensive strategies for top prospects.
  • Offer fundraising training to the entire board to provide an overview of the fundraising process and the importance of integrated fundraising across all solicitation methods.
  • Board members should be recruited with the understanding that fundraising is a requisite of service. (High profile is not a substitute for getting the job done).
  • Approve fundraising policies and procedures.
  • The board and executive leadership must establish aspirational goals and metric-driven strategies. This strategic plan will set funding priorities, giving donors more confidence that gifts are doing more than maintaining status quo.
  • Follow through with the cross-departmental collaboration between major gifts, special events and corporate fundraising.
  • Participate in professional educational and networking groups to allow staff to learn from peers.
  • Develop procedures for the new database. Ensure that all who have access to, and contact with major donors know how to research recent activity before contact.
  • Develop a planned giving strategy.


Words of Wisdom

We believe one of the most important pieces of advice we shared with this organization, is to “own their prospects.” Why? Ultimately, an organization’s relationship with donors belongs to the organization. It’s that simple. Unfortunately, in many instances, nonprofits have one point of contact for donors — often to “protect” those donors they have personal relationships with.

So, while the fundraising adage that “people give to people” is true, we believe the responsibility of the relationship holder is to ensure that the donor relationship is broader than one person. And, finally, remember that staff and board members come and go. You want your donor to stay forever.

Never dismiss the opportunity to partner with a company to help develop your nonprofit’s major gift fundraising campaign. Whether it’s for the short-term, or long term, agencies like IPM truly know how to organize and implement a successful major gifts fundraising campaign that delivers results.


On average, new IPM clients see a 34.8% increase in direct mail fundraising acquisition response rates within the first year of working with us. Want to learn more?

Contact IPM