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Major Gifts Programs 101: An Intro for Small Nonprofits

By November 1, 2022Fundraising, Nonprofit Tips
eleo nonprofit blog major gift

Let’s start by debunking a myth that has kept many small nonprofits from developing major gift programs:

You do not have to be a large nonprofit to benefit from major gifts!

Any nonprofit, regardless of size, can ask for and receive major gifts to support their fundraising. What might be lacking is a clear understanding of major gifts, major gift programs, and how to prospect for major givers.

For small nonprofits, a successful major gift program can be a gamechanger that enables you to make a bigger difference. The first step is to learn the basics so you can apply these concepts to your fundraising strategy!

What Is a Major Gift?

A major gift is one of the largest gifts a nonprofit receives. This is one donation from one source within one calendar year. A major gift could be an annual donation from the same person, although new donors have been known to pop up and donate a major gift from time to time.

This is why donor prospecting and stewardship are so important. More on that later!

A major gift is not the same as a major donor. In reality, major gifts often come from major donors, but not always.

For example, suppose someone gives $200 per month as part of a monthly giving program. The total amount donated over the course of the year may reach the major gift threshold, but a major gift is a single donation, not the sum of multiple donations.

Also, a major gift is not the same as a planned gift or legacy giving, which typically involve a donation given when someone passes away. Planned giving is for the future, while a major gift is for today.

Nonprofits that have a major gift program rely on these gifts to meet their fundraising goals, whether they’re funding a specific project or a general program. Because donors love to know and see the impact of their gifts, being able to explain specifically how the gift will be used makes donors more willing to step up with a major gift!

Keep in mind that the threshold for a major gift will vary by nonprofit. For small nonprofits, $500 may be considered a major gift. For a larger, more established nonprofit, the number could be $20,000. The right number for your nonprofit can be found by running reports in your database.

What Is a Major Gifts Program?

A major gifts program is a fundraising strategy that focuses on building relationships with current major givers, as well as prospective major givers, to increase and sustain the number of major gifts year over year.

A major gift program can be broken down into four steps:

  • Identify your major gift threshold
  • Identify your current major givers and potential major givers
  • Build relationships and make the ask
  • Steward donors consistently after the donation

A major gift program doesn’t happen with a flip of a switch. Relationship building and donor stewardship in particular take time, effort, and coordination. You should expect to devote resources to cultivating stronger connections with major givers. The potential reward in terms of major gifts and donor retention is well worth it!

Now that you know what a major gift and major gift program are, how do you get started? We’ll help you build the foundation for your small nonprofit’s major gift program in the next article!