You can ask for, and get, Major Gifts
Asking for major gifts doesn’t require full-time fundraising staff. Depending on your situation, you might be able to run a simplified major gifts campaign to meet the needs of a short-term crisis.
A word of MAJOR caution – crisis fundraising can work occasionally, but should not replace a more methodical approach to fundraising. People get tired of constant crisis appeals, and eventually see it as the result of poor planning rather than a real need. Remember the boy who cried wolf? If you’re always in crisis mode, people will begin to tune you out. That said, this approach can be used in an occasional crisis or integrated into your annual campaign.
Where to start?
The first thing you need is a list of people to ask. The people who you want to ask for a major gift are people who are already giving to your parish. The best place to start is with your donation database. Pull a list of the top 30-50 donors over the past three years. These are your potential donors.
There is a misconception that when you’re asking for major gifts you need to think of the richest person that you know and ask them for money. The problem with this is that Mr. Richguy doesn’t necessarily give to the parish. The best people to ask are those who are already making significant financial gifts to the parish.
Major gifts always means a personal ask, face-to-face preferably. Honestly, most parishioners won’t turn down an invitation by their priest to lunch or dinner. In fact, many will be honored. This invitation can be done by phone or e-mail, but really the more personal the better.
When you manage to sit down with them, the fun really begins. Remember that all giving, especially in the church, comes out of relationship. This is an opportunity for you to get some personal time with your parishioners. Ask them about their family. Ask them about their spiritual life. This is an opportunity to really pastor in person. As you’re getting to the end of your time together, thank them for their support of the church. Share with them the need that the Church is facing.
Then make the ask. My favorite phrase for the ask is, “Do you think you’d be in the position to consider making a gift to support this need?” It’s better if you can make a specific funding request, but if you don’t have any idea of what kind of ask you should be making, then you can start with half of the amount that they have given in the last 12 months. That would be a major gift by any standards, but not outside the realm of possibility for most people.
Then wait for them to respond. Once you’ve made the official ‘ask’, don’t keep trying to tell them good reasons to give. Give them some space to think about it. This is a big decision, and you want them to make it in such a way that they won’t second guess it down the road. And to be honest, if they are not ABLE to make such a big gift, you don’t want them to feel like you’re trying to pressure them into doing it. Silence will be the hardest part of this meeting, but use your silence productively by praying interiorly to the Holy Spirit for God’s will to be done.
If they tell you yes, praise God! Thank them profusely. This will hopefully be an exciting moment for your donor, don’t try to rush it to a close, or second guess it for them. Let them enjoy the satisfaction of making the decision to give. As you’re leaving the appointment, tell them that you’ll follow-up with them on the way that they will make the gift.
If they say no, it might be a good time to listen to the reasons and respond sympathetically. If you can hear them saying that the amount is too much or the timing is not right, you can ask them if they’d be more comfortable making a different gift or waiting until a different time. Notice I didn’t say smaller. “Smaller” implies less important, whereas “different” just means different.
If they say, “Let me think about it,” respond affirmatively, and set up a time in the next week or so that you’ll call to follow-up with them.
Remember that the goal at the end of this process is to have a closer relationship with your parishioner, whether or not they are able to give. If you handle this with real charity, the outcome will be positive no matter what.