Authentic relationships with major donors produces an array of benefits for a nonprofit organization.

In this course, you'll learn:

  • How to find major donor prospects
  • Building authentic relationships that produce results ... and not just donations
  • The secrets to what major donors really want
  • How to stop hunting for donations and have them come to you
  • What makes a major donor tick and why "the ask" is easier than you think

Noted fundraising expert and author of Donors Are People Too Timothy Smith takes you on the journey of how he started raising money from major donors and discovered the mistakes he was making. You'll discover the joy of building authentic relationships, how to overcome objections, and how to make the crucial ask for support - while maintaining friendships that can last decades.

Login below or sign up now to learn Major Donor engagement from Timothy Smith.

Module 1 Something is Wrong

Follow the trail of someone’s money over time, and you’ll find the real object of their passion. A person may give a gift in response to a request, but without a passion for that organization, they will soon find a way to avoid future requests. My goal in major donor work is to grow friends, to serve them truly and deeply as individuals, whether they ever give again or not.

We become stakeholders in each other’s lives. But because of my passion for my organization’s mission, and because of the deepening relationship between that donor and me, it’s almost inevitable that the donor will grow more committed to the organization I’m involved with. Their giving will be a byproduct of that commitment.

And at the end of each day, I lay my head on my pillow with a deeper sense of satisfaction, not just because someone contributed to my nonprofit organization, but that I contributed. I didn’t just represent an organization; I served the donor.

In this module you will learn about the balance between marketing to your donor and serving your donor It’s a tricky balance at times, but the key to effectively engaging major donors.


Module 2 It’s about the donor not the donation

It is easy to think about the gift as the end-product of major donor work. But the gift is only a byproduct. The end-product of major donor efforts is the donor—a friend who is growing, thriving, and joyfully committed to being used in the mission of your non-profit organization. In fact, this “end-product” is actually an ongoing product.

Down through the years, some have felt this approach to major donor work, is too “pastoral,” they feel, or not “systematic” enough, they’ve said. The fact is, this is a very systematic approach to fundraising.  make a plan, work the plan, evaluate the plan. But plans and systems for extracting gifts from major donors will do more to wear you down than to build up the good work you are doing, and it certainly does nothing for the donors themselves.

In this module, we’ll walk through a system for work with your major donors. But at the heart of this system is a truth that took most years to understand: It is never about the donation; it is always about the donor.

When you go into that relationship, contrived as it may be from the very beginning, with one primary question in mind: Is there a way I can serve this person? I want to know if there’s a way I can invest, be helpful, pray, love. It’s possible that the person may give to my organization eventually, but that will be a byproduct, not the end-product, of the relationship.

Don’t dismiss your chance intersections in other people’s lives. They could become part of the journey of your lifetime.

Some of our friends today are people you first met years ago in the strange circumstances of a fundraising appointment or the “artificial” environment of a fundraising event.

We happened to find that we have a lot in common and we got along especially well. Over the years, these wonderful people will invest in you as you will in them. Some will contribute enormously to the organizations you represent.

Coincidentally, the “best donors” on your contact list are the people you happen to relate to the best. But each friendship endures on its own, irrespective of financial contributions to any organization.


Module 3 That one in a million

Throughout your career in fundraising, you will have the privilege of meeting some of the most affluent and generous people in the world.

Sometimes a donor will tell you the story of how generosity became a way of life with him. Only rarely does one of these hugely generous donors report that he waited until he became exponentially successful before he started giving major gifts.

By far the more common pattern is that they made sacrifices along the way. They gave from what they had been given, and sacrificially, in earlier days.

This module will bristle at the idea of “finding that one in a million,” with “all of their millions or billions.” Typically, those people are already coming up in your organization now, and they will be top donors in the future. We will show you how to Care for them today.

Waiting, hoping, searching for that “one in a million” donor—that one with millions—reflects a back- ward view of major donors. Many organizations organize their major donor work as a kind of radar-sensitive search- and-destroy effort. This is the organizational equivalent of playing the lottery. Not only are the odds very long, but the organization’s trust is misplaced. The best plan is that most organizations will be nourished by many donors, not just one or two donors; this enables more people to experience the blessing of giving.

To avoid acquiring donors implies that giving to your work is unpleasant or unhealthy, when just the opposite is true.

Moreover, an organization which finds that “one in a million” will often struggle with an unintended side-effect: misplaced trust.


Module 4 What is the cost to build a major donor program

Fundraising is a calling, or, to be more accurate, it should be a calling. Fundraising among major donors is a particular type of work, not just a compilation of specialized strategies.

An idealist might complain that such personal attention should be given to donors at random, not only to those giving large amounts of money to the cause. This, however, would be unwise stewardship of the organization’s resources. To spend staff time in such a scattershot approach would result in financial loss for the organization. But perhaps even more significantly, larger donors are signaling their desire to be more involved; a highly personal investment of resources into that person is the appropriate response to that signal.

We must keep in mind our responsibility as stewards of the resources entrusted to our ministries. Every day as a fundraiser, we have to make decisions regarding the use of funds being invested in our work within the organization. We must be true to the donors who have already given in order to pay our salaries. We must protect the gifts they give and fulfill the intent that drove the contribution. Stewardship is ultimately practical: Can my organization af- ford to have me spending time in building a relationship that doesn’t have the potential to produce significant results? No. I need to focus my relationship-building and fundraising efforts on large donors because to do otherwise will under- mine the work to which God has called us all.


Module 5 Retaining Major Donors

Many in major donor work insist that donor acquisition is hard and donor retention is easy. I beg to differ. Yes, it can be difficult and costly to acquire donors, but I find it far more challenging—and satisfying—to retain a donor over a long period of time. To stay in relationship, and to keep finding new ways to express the vision of the ministry within the context of that relationship, takes thought and prayer and time and effort.

In this module we will be asking ourselves, where do the interests of the organization intersect with the interests of the donor? Where can the great over-arching mission of the organization connect to the passions of the donor? In most organizations, there are so many places for a person to connect, to intersect with your mission. You and your donors have been brought together for a productive reason. There’s at least an initial spark of interest in the donor for what your organization is accomplishing. And the more he learns, the more interested he becomes.


Module 6 Leading with your mission

It seems almost infantile to say that major donor work has to begin with the organization’s mission—indeed, it must always be linked to the organization’s mission. But in fact, many nonprofit organizations have sent representatives into the field to cultivate major donors without first establishing a strong sense of what the organization is really about. The rep then goes into battle poorly armed. He can talk about the financial need of the ministry, he can complain about the faltering economy, he can discuss the “competition” and how they make it so difficult to raise money. But he can’t articulate the mission of his organization—and that mission is at the heart of any authentically inspired contribution that a major donor might make.

This module helps focus on your mission… What do donors really want to know about your organization? They aren’t interested in ancient history, how you got started. They don’t want to know about Uncle Jimmy who inspired the whole thing forty years ago.

They want answers to three questions: Who are you? What do you do? And What do you want me to do?


Module 7 Death of a development director

So far, our modules have focused on an individual’s approach to donor relations and grasping the importance of putting the donor first as a person, not as a dollar sign. There is another aspect of successfully obtaining and retaining major donors that many overlook or refuse to accept that it affects individual operations: company culture.

After many conversations with executives and board members wanting us to “diagnose” what is wrong in their organization or why their company has stalled in growth. Sometimes there are simple, focused solutions with one strategy or another that will bring them over the hill and into a new quarter with higher revenue or achieve a successful campaign.

Other times, though, an organization needs an entire overhaul starting with company culture. Organizations can sink or swim depending on culture. Throughout his time serving in different organizations, Tim Smith in this module delves deep into the inner workings of organizations— what drives them, what drives individual employees, what perceptions outsiders have of that organization—and have come away with seven key concepts to create a healthy, sustainable, and successful company culture. These takeaways have given new life to struggling organizations, and have, once again, affirmed their calling.


Module 8 Shifting the Culture of your organization

How can you shift the culture of your organization and inspire everyone to embrace development so that every staff member, in effect, becomes a field rep for the ministry? In this module we will take a look at some practical steps.

In creating a healthy new culture within our ministry organizations, we must ensure that the entire team is on the same page at the same time working toward the same goals. They need to see their roles as integrated and overlapping. They must not persist as a number of teams, each doing its own thing, but rather as one team, with each member contributing to the success of the whole. In basketball,

If you are a coach of a basketball team you need each player to be as tuned to passing and assisting opportunities as he is to shooting opportunities.

In our organizational culture, we need the data entry clerk in the donor records office to be tuned to new movement, up or down, in a donor’s giving. You want that clerk to call the field representative and give him a heads-up, so he can zero in on any significant change in that donor’s life. The clerk and the rep are partners, fellow members of the team, both equally committed to developing that donor. Team play wins games. The organization wins, and, if not more importantly, the donor wins.

In this module you will see how to shift the culture of your non-profit organization. Yes, you can inspire employees to embrace development so that every staff member becomes, in essence, a field rep for the organization! As you conduct your honest self-critique, as you become a student and look honestly at successful organizations, as you start with fundamentals and then remain flexible throughout the process, you can do it!


Module 9 A demographic of one person

Many organizations don’t understand the importance of giving individual donors a sense of being valued. The reason most donors don’t give at their capacity is because their vision of the organization is limited by the way we communicate with them. If we invest in engaging them, interacting with them personally, they have a chance to become inspired by the mission—and support it more generously.

This module takes a deeper dive into what it takes to build the vision of your donors for your organizational mission. A donor moves away from our organizations when we do a poor job of helping him see the impact of his giving within our mission. Many donors pass on a lot of the great projects in your organization simply because you haven’t given them enough vision for the projects.

They take their giving to another place, in order to gain the satisfaction and make the impact they’re seeking. This phenomenon is even more common when we look at donors of the highest capacity and their giving relationship to their local church. Why do so many donors bypass their local church to park their funds with non-profit organizations? It always starts with a lack of robust vision in the church, and a sense that the non-profit entity can be trusted to handle sizeable gifts.


Module 10 What donors really want to know

As we work with donors personally, recognizing that each donor is a unique individual, we’ll likely discover that a major donor or prospective major donor is asking certain internal questions, either spoken or unspoken, which we need to answer as part of our ongoing work with a donor. In many cases we need to see through to the actual issues on a donor’s mind.

In this module we will take a close look at 7 key questions donors are asking, how to answer those questions and understanding the real information donors are seeking.

What is the best way to know whether an individual donor is asking any or all of these questions? Answer them in advance. Assume the information is desired and offer it. You’ll sense the donor latching on to the concepts of greatest importance to him.


Module 11 The Four-Part Cycle of Asking

How exactly should a major donor representative actually go about presenting the organization’s case to a donor and asking for the donation?

Many nonprofit reps are impatient. They want to make the contact, present the case, “close the sale,” collect the gift, and move on to the next donor. Others are too timid. They present the case, present the case, present the case, never quite sure about the “right moment” for asking.

After years of working with major donors, we have come to believe strongly in a four-part cycle for dealing with major donors: acknowledgment, trust-building, presenting the case for support, and the ask. The cycle is important. Most significantly, this cycle keeps the donor’s needs, interests, and values in view at all times. In this module we will look at each part of the cycle and investigate the timing and substance of each component.

As you practice this approach, you’ll grow more confident—because you’ll always know where in the cycle you are at any given moment. The donor will respond well to your confidence, because it will be clear that you’re keeping his or her needs, interests, and values in focus every step of the way. In this module we will help you to commit yourself to the four-part cycle—and watch what happens!


Module 12 Learning from your wins and losses

During Tim Smith’s many years of working with major donors, he has had to learn several good lessons the hard way. In this module Tim talks about the reality of wins and losses.  Not every ask will turn into a donation, not every request for a meeting with a highly qualified prospect will result in a meeting.

Here we talk candidly about a number of errors in hopes that others can achieve an “end run” around these mistakes.

In this module you will learn about 5 key pointers to overcoming the disappointment of misses.


Module 13 Frequently Asked Questions

In this final module of this course, we will look at some of the common questions major donor representatives have to work through. Having taught this material all over the country, we have been able to narrow down some of the common questions that are being asked.

We find certain questions coming up regularly. Here are several, along with answers we’ve found to be true.

Login below or sign up now to learn Major Donor engagement from Timothy Smith.

Tim Smith has over 30 years of experience in Non Profit Administration, Management and Fund Development. Tim has served as a Chief Development Officer in Non-Profit Organizations providing a wide range of expertise and resource in Non Profit leadership and management. Tim serves as Founder and CEO for Non-Profit DNA, a boutique firm committed to helping non-profits build their capacity through fundraising, leadership, team building, staff recruiting and coaching.

Tim is the author of Donors are People Too and What Have I Gotten Myself Into?: Building a Successful Fundraising Organization.

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Major Donor Engagement

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