A Four-Stage Plan for Major Donor Cultivation for the Annual Fund

Gateway Events: First Point in a Cycle of Life-Long Giving

David A. MerskyIn the last month, the media has been filled with news of the ALS ice bucket challenge. The challenge is an awareness and fundraising strategy that went viral thanks to Instagram, Facebook, and famous supporters like Oprah Winfrey and has raised more than $100 million dollars.

My friend, Greg Warner, CEO of MarketSmart, posted on his blog an answer to the question of what can we in the nonprofit world learn from the ice bucket challenge. His answer, “Nothing…well, almost nothing.”

Greg points out that we do not yet know the “average gift size, whether any of these donors will continue to support the mission,” and, in his mind, “what this viral campaign will mean for major and planned gifts.”

My guess is that well-meaning board members and staff are trying to figure out how they can replicate this viral campaign on behalf of their own agency. As Greg advises, “you should not spend one more minute concerning yourself or your development colleagues with this. Instead you should pick up the phone or jump in your car to go visit with a major donor, planned gift prospect, Legacy Society member, or anyone else from whom you might secure a major gift.”

But, the essential question is how then do we introduce people who could become a major donor to our organizations in the context of creating a “culture of asking?’

Beginning this month I will outline the first of four stages in the process of lifelong major donor cultivation to sustain the vital work which nonprofits do. The first point in this cycle is the Gateway Event—the very means by which we introduce new friends to support our agency.

Imagine a breakfast meeting on-site, a luncheon in a board member’s conference room, or a wine and cheese reception in a donor’s home. Eight to ten prospective donors who have been identified by your board members and have been invited to gather and learn more about the work of your agency. There will be no solicitation of funds—all you are seeking to do is to introduce high net worth individuals or corporate leaders to the important work that you do in the community.

The invitation is issued by the prospect’s friend and that friend accompanies the two or three folks whom they have invited to attend.

There are three basic components to the Gateway.

  • Capturing names and contact data with permission of the prospect
  • Exquisitely present a well-prepared, succinct overview of the mission, vision and values of the agency, its work, the costs of doing that work, the outcomes of fulfilling the mission and achieving the vision and, finally, the opportunities for people to engage with you.
  • There needs to be a compelling, emotional hook. We are after all, as individuals, we are emotional donors. While we seek rational reasons to justify our decision to give, that decision is essentially an emotional one.

The key to the success of the Gateway Event will be realized 48 hours after the event by which time every prospect who was present will be called…and, we will explore that topic when next we “meet.”

For more information on how we can help you prepare a Gateway event and help your nonprofit with major donor cultivation – email me by clicking here.


NEXT MONTH: Follow Up and Involve: Second Point in a Cycle of Life-Long Giving