6 Tips to Effectively Manage Your Major Gift Fundraisers

You’ve become an exceptional major gift fundraiser and now you’ve been promoted to manage a team of fundraisers. Congratulations – that’s great! But it generates a whole new set of responsibilities. How do you successfully lead a team while managing your own portfolio? And how do you find that delicate balance of leading the team, passing on your knowledge and creating more exceptional fundraisers?

These tips will get you started:

Priority #1

Your direct reports must be your first priority. Every day you should be thinking of what they may need to be successful. Keeping track of your team’s progress in vital. I use my iPhone Notes app. It allows me to create a note document for each person on my team with information about the person, their immediate needs and any upcoming gifts they are trying to close. It’s a great tool to keep me in the know. I can scroll through the list and check-in as needed. Determine what will work best for you.

Always Be Accessible

A great working relationship between a manager and a direct report is founded on trust and communication. You want your team to feel confident to approach you with any questions – big or small. Always make yourself available. If an MGO needs to discuss the strategy on a prospect, meet or call them that day if you can. These conversations will hopefully help move the needle to closing a gift. And, your consistent follow-up will show your team that you are invested in their success.

Keep Your Team Focused

Often times, MGOs spend too much time engaging multiple prospects or gifts of smaller amounts rather than directing their attention to their top prospects that have the best chance of closing. Work smarter, not harder! As an experienced fundraiser, you may need to help re-direct their focus  toward these prospects. Check out this spreadsheet. It’s a great tool to organize solicitation prospects by gift amount and where they are in the timeline of the ask process. Have your direct reports bring this document to every 1:1 meeting to review the progress.

Forward Momentum

As a manager, you should always find ways to motivate your team to do more. Challenge your team using phrases like, “Maybe we should make this ask sooner” or “Could we ask for more money than this?” Sometimes a little push may be needed. There is a great quote from Danny Meyer’s classic book “Setting the Table” where he advises to apply “Constant Gentle Pressure.” He encourages managers to set high standards, promise to correct employees in a kind and professional manner if they don’t meet those standards, but let them know that those standards are important and must be maintained. Get setting your table.

Onboarding is Key

You only get one opportunity to onboard a major gift fundraiser, so make sure you take the time to do it right. Reinforce your team values, bring them on visits, provide proper training and resources, and whatever else is important to reaching individual and team goals. Be sure company protocols and procedures are clearly defined so you will spend less time on corrections. What about the desired team culture? Your leadership and enthusiasm will help to define a positive experience. By setting the course from the beginning, you will ensure success.  This is time well invested; procuring positive results in the long run.

Continuous Learning

No matter your skill level as a fundraiser, you should immerse yourself to learn all you can about major gift fundraising. Isn’t that why you’re reading this article? We can learn from others – whether it be an individual’s success story, a great article or blog to share or any one of the million other resources out there. Ask your employees what skills they need to develop and provide the necessary roadmap to make it happen. When a fundraiser books a major gift, encourage them to tell the start to finish story of the gift including all key strategies that helped with the close. The whole team benefits that way and it builds camaraderie. Finally, don’t be afraid to share your own stumbles along the way. It’s easy to celebrate the success stories, but we often learn the most from our missteps.

Lead. Educate. Motivate. You’ve got the tools.

The One Question You Should Always Ask in Prospect Qualification Meetings

There you are – qualifying another prospect. You’ve prepared your list of questions to help determine wealth and affinity. But here is the one question you should always ask:

What was the one part of your college experience you valued the most?

The answers to this important qualification question will begin to expose your prospect’s passions and help you to craft a strategy for future engagements that may ultimately guide the direction of the donor’s major gift. Here’s a sampling of some answers that reveal important clues to help you design the next steps of engagement with your prospect.

Answer: Scholarship

“I received a scholarship that helped me a lot. Without it, I don’t know if I could have finished my degree at Mumford University.”

Love this answer! After being properly cultivated, this prospect is primed to be asked for a scholarship gift.

Answer: Faculty Member

“Professor Inglewood from the Physics Department was an unbelievable mentor to me. During my first year, I struggled and he took the extra time to help me get through. I still keep in touch with him.”

Great! Update the prospect on the faculty member and the department. Ideally, set up a meeting between the prospect and the professor. This could lead to a major gift honoring the professor in the form of a scholarship or student support fund, for example.

Answer: Student Groups/Sports/Greek Organizations 

“I was a member of the Computer Science Club on campus. What a great experience. I created lifelong friends and it helped me to land an excellent job because club members were being highly sought after and recruited.”

Clubs and Sports are an important part of the overall college experience, right? There are lots of ways to engage prospects: reunions, speaking engagements and mentoring opportunities to name a few. An endowed gift in support of a group seems like a sure winner.

Answer: Academic Support Center

“The academic support center was a huge help to me as a student. I struggled early on in my math and science courses. They took the extra time to get me up to speed and I made the dean’s list consistently.”

Offer to set up a meeting with your prospect and the director of the academic support center. Your prospect may wish to pay-it-forward, for example, with a gift to endow funds to hire additional support staff which are often desperately needed at universities.

Answer: Capstone Project

“My senior year, I was part of a capstone project where a team of students consulted on a project for a local engineering firm. The project taught me a lot about working in teams and I eventually got a job with the engineering firm.”

Capstone projects are always in need of alumni mentors, guest speakers and supplies. Your prospect might love an opportunity to meet with current students and/or the director of the program. The eventual goal here would be securing an endowed fund to help underwrite guest coaches and project materials.

Now that you’ve got that One Question – get listening!

Shock Prospects with Speedy Follow Up and Major Gifts will Follow

Building relationships with major gift prospects is often a lengthy process of strategic engagement that should start and end with one thing: prompt and thorough follow up. As a fundraiser, you should make it your #1 priority to follow up on any action items relative to conversations you have with your prospects. How fast? Within 24 hours fast! By doing this, you demonstrate to the prospect that you not only value the relationship but they are a priority to your organization. After all, who doesn’t want to feel valued, right? Let me give you an example:

A fundraiser meets with a prospect for lunch. During the meeting, the fundraiser and prospect discuss:

  • The upcoming retirement of the prospect’s favorite professor, Dr. Alfred Letz.
  • Research being done in 3D printing at Mumford that might be of interest to the prospect’s company.
  • Updates on the Women in Engineering Endowed scholarship. The prospect supports this fund and verbally committed $10,000 more during in the meeting.
  • The prospect’s daughter is considering attending Mumford next fall.

Within 24 hours, this should be your follow up email from the meeting:

Dear Leslie,

It was great to have lunch with you yesterday and get caught up. First, I wanted to thank you for committing an additional $10,000 to the Women in Engineering Endowed Scholarship. We truly appreciate your generous gift in support of our women engineers. When I shared the news with the club president, she and the other students offered to set up a Zoom meeting to personally thank you and provide you with updates on the program. Please let me know what dates will work for you in the coming weeks and we will get this scheduled.

I wanted to follow up with you on some of the topics we discussed. Plans are in the works for a big retirement celebration for Professor Letz this spring. I will send you the details when they become available. Here is an article about his retirement: mumford.edu/letzretirement.

After our discussion on 3D printing at Mumford and how this might be of help to your company, I reached out to the professor heading up this research. Her name is Dr. Ellen Hilimire (ehilimire@mumford.edu). I let her know you may be in touch and provided her with an overview of your company.

How exciting to hear that your daughter is considering attending Mumford next fall. It would be awesome to have her to follow in your footsteps. If she needs more information on the electrical engineering department, please let me know. I am also happy to arrange a tour of the department.

Leslie, thank you again for your time and conversation.  I hope to see you at Mumford this spring. Go Tigers!


Mike Patterson

Quick and to the point! You have to remember – in non-profit fundraising, the fundraiser and the organization are usually not the biggest priority in your prospect’s life. Truth is, we are probably on the low end of their list. Speedy follow up is KEY in keeping you on your prospect’s radar. Not only are you saying, “I value you,” but swift and thoughtful communication will lay the foundation of trust with your prospect and will hopefully lead you to that major gift. You might just shock and impress them. What are you waiting for? The clock is ticking…

5 Places to Uncover Major Gift Prospect Leads

Every major gift officer wants better prospects in their portfolio. But where do you go to find them since, in most cases, they aren’t just handed to you? It will take a little detective work and time to discover and properly qualify these new leads. Here are five places that any fundraiser, seasoned or new, can check out to aid in the search:

Internal Partners

Some of the best leads come directly from the faculty and staff at your university. With their alumni and corporate connections, these partners can facilitate introductions on your behalf, often resulting with an increased rate in opening the door and landing that initial meeting or visit. Establishing trust and transparency with your internal partners will be critical to your success.

Ask Prospects

When you meet with a prospect you should always ask, “What other alumni do you know that are doing well?” If you haven’t, start now! Often times, this simple question may produce potential leads of prospects that were not even on your organization’s radar. And, an added benefit is the initial introduction they can offer for you.


Sometimes events can be tedious but they are a great place to meet new prospects. If you have access, look over the attendee list prior to the event and formulate your game plan. And, if possible, run a wealth screen report to give you a better idea of the major players in the room. The key to maximizing this opportunity is to be prepared ahead of time.

Your Database

If your office has a research department, they should be able to provide you with a wealth screening assessment of your prospects. But, you can do this research on your own as well. Experience has shown that donors with multiple years of giving yield the best results in finding new prospects. Their giving pattern already reveals their affinity and is a great conversation starter in an initial qualification.


If you are not familiar with the search function on LinkedIn, you should be. This is a great tool to keep handy. LinkedIn’s user-friendly search function can filter specific information in your prospect search. Start by typing in your university name in the search area. Once on the university page, select the alumni tab. From there you have options to narrow your search by “Where they live” and “Where they work.” You can also search by a specific job title. For example, you can look up all the alumni in Chicago that have a job title of “president.”

Recent Gifts

This may seem like a no brainer, but glancing over the list of recent gifts received by donors can be a source for good leads. Since they’re already giving to your organization, a simple follow-up call thanking them for their gift could lead to a visit and/or future giving.

After you find new prospect leads, it is time to start reaching out to these prospects for meetings. For help with that, try our Step by Step Guide to Fundraising Qualification Visit.

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