DickersonBakker Blog

Three Essential Elements to Grow Abundant Major Giving

The bottom line: If you nourish your major donors with these three essential elements, you will grow an abundance of major giving at your nonprofit, like you’ve never seen before.

I don’t have a green thumb. We just had our house re-landscaped, and when it came to picking foliage, the words “low-maintenance” on a plant’s label was a sure-fire way for it to make our shopping list.

You don’t need a green thumb, however, to know that plants need three things to grow: soil, sunlight, and water. Take away any one of those three elements, and a plant will shrivel up and die. Provide just the right amount of each, and it will flourish and grow to its full potential.

In much the same way, major donors also need three essential elements to grow their giving. If any of the three are missing, major giving will eventually shrivel up. But provide donors with all three, and you will see an abundance of generosity grow like never before.


Personal relationships provide the habitat for giving to grow. The more relationships the donor has with your organization, the more rich and fertile the soil.

Most people understand the importance of personal interaction in major giving. That is why most nonprofits employ someone on their staff whose job is to go out and meet with major donors. What most people don’t understand, however, is that a major gift fundraiser who is a “sole practitioner” will never be able to provide the extent of connectivity major donors need, no matter how good they are at their job.

At its best, what personal relationships with donors are really about is connecting with them in such a way that they begin to feel like they belong — that they are partners with you in achieving a common purpose. Think about an organization you are part of. Maybe it’s your church. Or your children’s school. Or your local neighborhood association. If you only knew one person in the whole organization, would you really feel part of it? Of course not! The same is true with your major donors. For donors to feel like they are personally engaged with your organization, don’t just rely on the fundraising team to connect with them. Begin weaving an intricate web of connectivity with many people across your organization. At DB&A we call these multi-dimensional donor relationships. In fact, there are four dimensions of relationships you should particularly focus on, and you can learn more about each of these four dimensions of relationship by clicking here.


Have you ever asked your major donors why they give to your organization? I’ve asked donors this question many times. And the answer I receive back is almost always the same: they want to make a positive impact in the lives of people. So, when they give a major gift to your organization, they are making an investment in your work based on a promise that you will use their money to make a major impact in the lives of the people you serve.

As your closest and highest-value giving partners, your major donors are keenly interested in learning about how their giving is making a difference in the lives of people you serve. How, what, and when you are communicating with them is critically important, and should be decidedly different from how you communicate with your mass market segment. Too few nonprofits have any real plan for how to strategically communicate with this critically important segment of donors, who typically provide at least half of your fundraising income. Too often they are either lumped in with the mass market messaging stream, or are carved out entirely with an expectation that their assigned major gift officer will communicate with them in person, which effectively starves them of information. Both approaches, unfortunately, often lead to stagnation in major giving.

When it comes to growing major giving, communication is like sunlight. The more brightly you shine, the more bountiful will be your harvest.

Most organizations spend 90% or more of their marketing budget communicating to the lowest common denominator. This is a mistake. You should plan to carve out a portion of your marketing spending to make sure you are doing a good job of communicating to your major donors. The good news is this need not be costly. Your major donor segment represents a relatively small number of people, who tend to value authenticity over polished design, so you don’t need to produce copious amounts of fancy, high-cost materials. Professional? Yes. Fancy and expensive? No. Low cost, personalized communications is all you need.


Visceral experiences are game-changing. They affect you at such a deep, emotional level that it changes the way you think or act.

One of the most common myths I have encountered over the course of my career is a belief that major donors make major giving decisions based on intellect versus emotion. This is simply not true. Don’t misunderstand me. Of course donors put more thought into big gifts. The same is going to be true of any big financial decision. But the inclination to make a big gift almost never starts in the mind… it comes from the heart.

Over the course of my career I have personally gotten to know more major donors than I can count. I enjoy hearing them tell about why they give. And it never takes long before the story comes out. An encounter that touched their heart in a special way. A pivotal experience that changed the way they view the world.

For some nonprofits this comes naturally. Last year I experienced this personally when one of my kids had a health crisis that required neurosurgery — we will never look at life the same again after that. Think about how four years at college changed your life forever. Maybe you found faith and purpose through a church or ministry. Or a loved one you thought was lost came back from addiction. People naturally want to give back to organizations that have such a dramatic impact on our lives.

But what about those nonprofits that don’t have those same opportunities? Homeless shelters are changing lives every day, after all, but not many have wealthy alumni funding their endowments or putting their names on buildings.

Whatever your lot, the onus is on you to come up with ways for your donors to experience what you do in a transformative way. It is not enough for your donors to just hear stories. You need to figure out ways for your donors to encounter the life-changing work you are doing in a way that they will never forget. One homeless shelter we work with started a mentoring program that connected men in recovery with successful businessmen from the community. Having heard testimonies from both sides, I’m not sure whose lives were affected more… the men in recovery, or the businessmen who walked alongside them on their journey to new life.

Major giving is never just about emotions. Major donors do not make giving decisions mindlessly. The bigger the gift, the more important it will be that you can craft a rational case for how their money will be used wisely to advance your mission and goals. Be deliberate and thorough in considering all the issues, so that you can answer questions thoughtfully and well. But never lose sight of the fact that every giving decision – big or small – always wells up from the heart before it moves to the mind.

If you, like most of our clients, are seeking to grow a greater abundance in major giving, then make sure that you have all three of these essential elements in place. Sow the seeds and nourish them well, and you will reap an abundant harvest. We can help. Why not give us a call to learn more?

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