Take initial steps to identify major donors and secure early major gifts in your faith organization’s capital campaign.

Religious organizations are one of the nonprofit sectors facing the greatest pressure to adapt to the current needs of the members and communities they serve. With aging structural facilities, increased technological demand, generational shifts in spiritual priorities, and a growing cultural need for healing, organizational budgets and staff can feel stretched thin.

To meet this growing wave of donor engagement and societal need, many religious organizations are embarking on transformational, multi-year, capital campaigns. These campaigns support growth and prepare their faith communities for a lasting, sustainable future.

Strong major gift efforts at the outset of campaigns can generate early momentum and provide anchoring stories of donor generosity and philanthropic impact, which can resonate throughout the potential donor pool. This article outlines the necessary steps for your religious organization to identify and engage potential major donors, and to secure early major gifts to stimulate community engagement throughout your capital campaign.

1. Leverage Strong Leadership: Use Your Existing Resources

The key to a successful major gift initiative is to utilize available resources to identify and engage the most generous and active donors. Easily accessible prospects that have an affinity for supporting your organization or similar organizations and are able to give are those who are most likely to provide a transformational gift toward the campaign.

Leadership in this stage of a campaign starts with the faith leader. If the head of your organization is actively involved in the process, the probability of participation will increase and yield a fruitful fundraising campaign. Likewise, the supporting committee chosen to back your leaders must feel equally enthusiastic about the mission and plan for conducting the campaign.

Within a religious campaign, your main prospects are already built into your existing community. It is essential to leverage your leadership for prospect identification purposes. Often, faith and lay leaders can help determine many prospective major donors based on personal knowledge and community connection.

Once these prospective supporters have been identified, campaign support staff and research tools can maximize potential gifts by determining potential ability and affinity. Our team at CCS Fundraising employs a suite of research tools to understand a prospect’s financial potential and historical giving trends to your organization and fellow nonprofits. Some of our go-to tools include (but are not limited to) multiple wealth screening analysis, data collection from 990 forms, and internal modeling tools based on giving trends across the country. These tools allow us to identify families with a large propensity that may not be immediately apparent based on their giving history.

2. Share your Comprehensive Case: Convey True Need

Once we have identified top prospects, the next objective is to bring them to the table and to share the case for support. Letting those you hope to engage as lead donors have the first look at the campaign case is crucial to creating a sense of unity, leadership, and importance of the proposed projects.

Invite your top prospects to a campaign “launch event.” A launch event allows donors to learn about the overall campaign needs across ministries, meet like-minded donors and other interested parties in the campaign, and unite under a mutual initiative to strengthen your community of faith.

This event also allows faith leaders to launch further conversations and gives a natural connection point with their top donors. By presenting a strong case early, a faith leader can brief donors on specific case elements, address questions, and reiterate individual donor impact in a personal manner.

Early supporters will ask intentional questions, reflect on the transformative planned initiatives, and initiate discussions with their pastors on how they can best support the campaign. If they show up to the event, it is very likely that they are already interested in the campaign and willing to participate in some capacity. The leader’s job is to continue this conversation and provide the correct request.

3. Make the Request Personal: Prioritize Consistency and The Follow-Up

Now that the donor has knowledge of the campaign from a group-based event, the faith leader should continue a personalized dialogue to discuss their gift. The formal gift request should take place in a private setting; this is a conversation between the leader, the individual, and their family. It may be beneficial to have an additional campaign leader that maintains a close relationship with the donor as a supporting advocate who can navigate specific interpersonal situations. The request should be expressed verbally and in a formal letter that should be left with the donor at the end of the meeting.

Following the gift request, the prospective donor will likely take some time to consider their gift. Thank the donor for their time, and promptly move into the follow-up phase within the next one to two weeks. CCS has found that after the five to seven-day window, gift amounts and donor interest tend to decrease significantly, unless proper follow-up steps are taken. Schedule the follow-up as a starting point to clarify any additional questions and to secure a transformational gift.

unlocking transformational giving

Conducting a successful major donor solicitation involves three key steps: identifying and researching potential lead gift prospects, building relationships with these donors, and making the ask. By taking these steps and securing large gifts early in a campaign, your religious organization can not only gain a strong funding foundation, but also inspire others to give generously and engage more deeply with organizational life.

The impact of this early success cannot be understated—it will provide a strong message to the community that the mission is important and worthy of investment to a significant degree. By implementing a strategic and thoughtful approach to major donor solicitation, your nonprofit can secure the funding it needs to make a meaningful impact throughout your community and strengthen your mission and resources for future generations.   

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