It’s Monday morning and you’re sitting with your first cup of coffee of the day. You open the newspaper and see this headline on page one: “Mr. and Mrs. Benefactor Give $1 Million to Fund ABC Organization.” You ask yourself, “Why didn’t we get that gift?” Hasn’t your organization been cultivating this generous couple for the past year? You did get a $10,000 gift, which seemed like a real coup several months ago. But a million bucks? You nearly choke on your coffee and think of how your CEO is going to grill you on how this happened.

Of course, many of us can relate to that scenario. You know that somewhere, somehow your prospects, donors and maybe even your own Board members are making bigger investments at other institutions. Sure, you know that they have the capacity for much larger gifts but it’s not for lack of trying. Where are you going wrong?

Here are some tips for making sure it’s your organization that gets that big gift next time:

  1. Be visionary. Big gifts are the result of thoughtful, consistent and frequent cultivation and stewardship of your donors and prospects. For one client, our campaign planning study indicated that, to be successful, their campaign needed “transformational giving.” The client was fortunate to have a major donor with the capacity to make such a gift. Therefore, they increased the frequency of meetings with him to once a month, often over a brown bag lunch at his office. They rarely spoke of money directly but did talk about their big idea, which was to double their endowment so they could help more students. Soon, the donor was sponsoring a scholarship. Not long after that, the institution realized an endowment gift of $25 million from this wonderful man and his wife, and that was matched by a second donor.
  2. Be innovative. When four separate community service organizations in the same county were planning individual capital campaigns totaling $45 million, their common grant funder—a local foundation that promotes and provides services to support the health and well-being of it citizens—helped co-locate them into one campus, combining efforts and maximizing efficiencies, both financially and programmatically. The Foundation’s leadership not only leveraged needed funding but resulted in the formation of a “common” resource, recognized today as a national model for collaborative service delivery.
  3. Be a good listener. Listen to your donors and what they say about you. Don’t assume that a gift to you means that your donors understand everything about your organization. Learn to tell your story in both personal and “mega” ways that touch your supporters. For example, a school can share compelling personal stories about its “dropout” prevention program and also demonstrate the significant financial savings to society for each student who graduates high school.
  4. Be persistent. Remember that husband and wife who made a $25 million gift? That “transformational” gift was the culmination of years of cultivation on the part of the organization with help from a fundraising (or “development”) roadmap. When they arrived at their big idea, they were prepared to forge the relationship that got the gift. Certainly, it was worth the wait!

By sharing your institution’s big ideas with your donors and prospects, you are planting the seeds for tomorrow’s big gift. See you on Page One!