Major Gift Fundraising is for Small Nonprofits, Too!


by Jeff Schreifels

Last month, Richard and I hosted a webinar to answer questions you have about major gift fundraising. It was a lot of fun to do, and we got so many questions that we decided we would host one of these webinars every quarter or so.

We had one question, though, said many ways that had an overarching theme: “If I’m working for a small organization, can I still create a major gift program?”

The context being that, since you are either the only person working in development, or you’re the executive director and you have no development person because you have no time, it’s impossible for you to have a major gift program.

Over the years, Richard and I have been asked this hundreds of times from “one-person-shop” development directors and from executive directors whose one development staff person says it can’t be done.

And, of course, the answer is, “Yes you can!”

Major Gift Fundraising Isn’t Limited to Large Nonprofits

If you are from a small organization, you tend to think there is no way to fit major gifts into your schedule because you don’t have the resources or staff like the larger organizations.

That is only true if you view major gifts as some kind of “add-on” strategy that will bring in some extra revenue for you. I want to tell you a quick story.

The other day, I was at a nonprofit in New York City that Veritus works with. I’m in the elevator with my client and in walks someone she knows who happens to be the executive director of a very small nonprofit. She introduces me to him and says, “Ron (not his real name), Jeff works in major gifts. What percentage of your time as an executive director do you spend on major gift fundraising?”

He looks at us with a big smile and says, “90 percent of my time!”

“Look,” he said, “As the executive director with no development staff, if I’m not out talking to donors most of my time, I have no programs.”

Now, Ron may have been overstating it a bit with his “90 percent” line, but the point is it’s very high on his list of all the fundraising activities he takes part in, let alone his program responsibilities.

Put In What You Can Toward Major Gifts

Richard and I are not saying you have to spend 90 or even 50 percent of your time on major gifts, but you do need to elevate major gifts above all other fundraising activities because both in the short and long-term, this is what is going to bring in your net revenue and sustain your programs.

If that means you have 10, 20 or 30 percent of your time to do it, great. Whatever it is, you can start and build a major gift program. I don’t care if that means you can only work with five donors. If you can cultivate and deepen those relationships and match their interests and passions with your programs, they will help you in ways you never thought possible.

The point is: you don’t have to be a medium or large organization to have a successful major gift program. But you do have to start one, and you have to dedicate some of your time to it.

Richard and I hear too often from executive directors or development directors of small nonprofits whine about how they could do so much more if they had a full-time major gift officer, researchers, more donors, etc. But they use that excuse for not getting started at all.

How do you think those large organization became large? Someone started from nothing and helped grow it. And, if they had a great mission with amazing offers that donors were passionate about, they grew it quickly.

Being small is not an excuse for not having a major gift program. In fact, in many ways, Richard and I find that it’s an advantage. Being small means you know your programs deeply and, because you are working with just a small number of donors, you can really get to know them. That is a winning combination for major gift success.

If you are working for a small nonprofit and you’re “it,” you can still be wildly successful with a major gift program. Don’t let small bring you down. Let small work to your advantage. Small can be mighty!

Click here to read the full article by Jeff Schreifels.