Major Gifts for Beginners - Part 2

Dear Fr. Zagloba,

That’s awesome! Don’t worry, I set the bar high for you, and this is a great result. Five 1-on-1 meetings for your first week? Six more scheduled for next week? Two gift commitments already? Fantastic. That’s $6,000 you didn’t have a week ago.

Only $37,000 more to fundraise.

So here’s what I think you should do now. The heat is on (figuratively) because the heat is off (in actuality). We do need a new furnace immediately. You should continue the major gift requests in the coming weeks, as hard as it is, but now you have new arrows in your quiver.

It’s time for ‘Follow the Leader’

This Sunday is the first that everyone in the parish will find out about (and experience) the death of the furnace. Even though it is consuming all of your attention right now, most of the parish has no idea. I think that you can use the two gifts that you have already secured to help raise most, if not all of the rest, of the money relatively quickly.

At the end of Mass, you can tell the story about how, by God’s providence, you were able to prevent the furnace from burning down the church with its dying breath. Then tell the parishioners about how two donors have already stepped up and committed to funding $6,000 of the $43,000 that it will cost to replace it. Be grateful for their generosity and thank them. (You don’t have to mention their names, but I’ll get into more detail about this further in the letter.)

Then ask your parishioners to consider making a donation to help replace the furnace. The gift commitments that you have already gotten should be one of the central points of your announcement. “Why?” you ask. Because people always follow the leader.

Great(er) expectations

When you mention that you are raising funds to buy a new furnace, people will initially think, “Well, how much cash do I have in my wallet?” That is great, don’t get me wrong. But 200 twenty dollar gifts only bring in another $4,000. It simply isn’t going to be enough. That’s less than the two donations that you have gotten so far.

When you tell people that two of their fellow parishioners have already given $6,000, it will completely recalibrate their ‘give-o-meter.’ Even if they can’t make a $1,000+ gift, you’re setting much higher expectations and opening their eyes to the idea of making big donations. They might give $100-$500 instead of $20.

In fact, the best approach is to ask both of your major donors to share why they are happy to give such large sums. There’s an old fundraising proverb, “Donors give to givers.” It makes sense if you think about it. If I’m asking you to give to a cause, and I can tell you that I’ve already made a significant gift to the cause, my request will be more credible. You are more likely to give when someone you know has given.1

The scenario works with larger gifts. If I’ve given $100, and I ask you to give $5,000, some part of you will think, “Who does this bozo think he is?” If, however, I gave $10,000, and I ask you to give $5,000, you might think, “Wow, he’s generous. I want to be like him.”

Now, if the two donors won’t want to speak, I understand. It’s intimidating, but when you do ask them, explain that their testimony will make a tremendous impact on the other parishioners. They will be more willing to give larger donations by witnessing the donors’ passion and generosity for St. Catherine’s.

If it might encourage them, I can find the research which shows that this method works well to help inspire people to respond.



P.S. A 40% success rate on asking for major gifts your first week is pretty much walking on water. You should be very encouraged. We’ll have the heat back on in no time.

Need some new ideas on how to fundraise? Check out The Fundraiser’s Playbook and find the fundraising strategy that will work best for you!