If your organization is gearing up to host a high-energy event like a buzzworthy auction or gala, you likely have ambitious fundraising goals. Rather than crossing your fingers and hoping for the best when the big event day arrives, it’s important to strategically plan how you’ll secure enough gifts to turn your gala into a fundraising success. 

This is where getting your major donors involved can help. Unlike most individual donors at lower tiers, a single major donor can drive significant impact for your nonprofit. Their large giving capacity, coupled with a willingness to push your organization’s mission forward, can make a huge difference in your event’s ROI. 

However, major donors may not be inclined to give to your organization without intentional and meaningful relationship-building from your team. To generate enough revenue from your donor base and get a strong start before your gala, these three strategies can be put to use:

  • Identify major donor prospects
  • Cultivate major donor relationships
  • Personalize your ask

Nurturing solid relationships with major donors can bring lasting benefits to your nonprofit, ensuring their consistent support each time you host an event or fundraising campaign. But first, you need to identify prospects. 

Identify major donor prospects

As you gear up for your fundraising gala, it’s essential to zero in on donors who are most likely to make significant contributions. This process begins with prospect research. Prospect research helps you identify potential major donors and learn more about their backgrounds, which will prove to be especially valuable for cultivating relationships and making personalized solicitations later on. 

As you conduct prospect research, be on the lookout for the following indicators:

Wealth indicators

Half of what makes the perfect major donor is having the capacity to give major gifts. The most prominent wealth factors include:

  • Real estate ownership
  • Business affiliations
  • Political giving

Once you’ve determined a prospect has the ability to be a major donor, the next step involves exploring whether they have a genuine philanthropic interest that aligns with making a donation. 

Philanthropy indicators

According to Double the Donation’s guide to prospect research, certain factors can point to a prospect’s willingness to give: 

  • Previous donations to your nonprofit
  • Donations to other organizations
  • Nonprofit involvement, such as board membership or volunteerism
  • Personal details, including their hobbies and interests

Comb through your donor database to pinpoint past donors that meet these criteria. You can also ask your board members or fundraising ambassadors to facilitate introductions to prospective major donors. This process lightens your administrative burden and connects you with potential major donors quickly. However, you should still research these contacts in preparation for your meeting to ensure your time and cultivation efforts are put to their best use.

Your nonprofit may also already have a list of major donors with whom you’ve established relationships with in the past. Even if you’re not identifying them for the first time, prospect research is still important for qualifying these donors and ensuring they’re still a top prospect for this particular event. 

Cultivate major donor relationships

Once you’ve identified prospects for your gala, it’s time to start building stronger connections with them. 

Just as you’re eager to get better acquainted with your prospects for major gifts, your prospects can also use this opportunity to learn more about your nonprofit. Keep this perspective in mind when planning cultivation activities that allow you to familiarize yourself with your donors and allow donors to further connect with your cause. Some common cultivation tactics include:

  • Meeting in-person. Your introductory meeting should be casual and natural, but you still need to have some questions prepared to help guide the conversation. For example, you might ask prospects about what they do for work and what they’re passionate about. Asking for personal information shows prospects that you care about them and sets the basic foundation to make an informed and personalized solicitation at a later time. 
  • Following up with personalized communications. Once you’ve met with a prospect and know more about what makes them tick, begin sending regular correspondence that aligns with their interests. For example, if you’re an animal welfare nonprofit and a prospect has expressed that they’re particularly passionate about your spay and neuter efforts, you might send updates about the recent cat colony you trapped, neutered, spayed, and rehomed. For an added personal touch, send these communications by direct mail to help prospects feel special. 
  • Sending gala and event invitations. Events are one of the best ways for prospects to get to know your organization, meet other nonprofit staff, volunteers, and donors, and see your organization in action. If you’re hosting a pre-gala event like a golf fundraiser or auction, send a personal invitation in the mail that cordially asks for their presence. When it comes time to send out your gala invites, the OneCause guide to fundraising galas recommends inviting prospects to a special VIP experience as part of your event, such as a small, exclusive gathering at the auction component of your gala. VIP event experiences offer a way for donors to engage with your nonprofit more intimately and feel connected to your cause. 

Continue to meet with your prospects regularly to establish a good rapport and point them to various ways to learn more about your organization. During these meetings and check-ins, you’ll be able to gain plenty of insights into who your prospects are, and you don’t want to forget any of this invaluable information. Record meeting notes and track your moves management in your CRM or fundraising software to organize your cultivation strategy. 

Personalize your ask

Once you feel comfortable with your prospects and understand what motivates them, it’s time to craft a compelling and personal solicitation. Your solicitation should naturally fit into your conversation with donors and feel reasonable based on the information they’ve shared with you. For instance, a request for any large sum of money after a prospect has expressed that they were just laid off from work wouldn’t be feasible and would likely take your relationship in the wrong direction. 

To make an effective ask, use these best practices:

  • Determine a practical amount. Your solicitation should be a specific amount tailored to each individual prospect. If your ask is too high, you risk not raising any money at all from them; if it’s too low, you’re underselling yourself and leaving money on the table. Come up with a reasonable ask based on the prospect research you performed and what you’ve learned about your donors in your conversations. 
  • Contextualize your fundraising needs. Clearly communicate why you’re seeking this particular donation amount for your fundraising gala and how the revenue raised from this event will advance your mission. For instance, you might explain how the proceeds from your fundraising gala will be used towards renovating your facility, thereby improving your capacity to serve the community. 
  • Be transparent. Talking about funding doesn’t have to be awkward. Your prospects already know your organization is making waves to change the world and needs revenue to power this momentum. Be open and honest about your fundraising needs, and explain how your prospect’s donation will fit into your organization’s story. 

If your prospects agree to your solicitation, you’ve just made significant headway toward reaching your fundraising goals. Great work! If your prospects deny your ask outright or say they need to think about it some more, offer other engagement opportunities to keep your organization at the forefront of their minds. For instance, you might invite them to leverage their influence and peer-to-peer fundraise before your fundraising gala. 

Just like with anything your nonprofit does, it’s important to put ample time and preparation into making effective solicitations. Not only will your gala benefit from the added financial support, but your organization can also steward these major donor relationships over time and turn them into lifelong partnerships.