12 Ways to Grow Major Donors

Posted by David G Phillips on Aug 10, 2018 11:48:08 AM

12 Ways to Grow Major Donors

“What has been will be again, what has been done will be done again; there is nothing new under the sun.”

Ecclesiastes 1:9 NIV

Every nonprofit executive would love to have a free flowing stream of major gifts.  Why then, do they not look, learn and do as others have done to build that stream somewhere else?  Most of you know that Andrew Carnegie commissioned Napoleon Hill to interview 500 of the most successful people of their time, and to distill their wisdom and formula for success.

Hill interviewed many of the most famous people of the time, including Thomas Edison, Alexander Graham Bell, George Eastman, Henry Ford, Elmer Gates, John D. Rockefeller, Sr., Charles M. Schwab, F.W. Woolworth, William Wrigley Jr., John Wanamaker, William Jennings Bryan, Theodore Roosevelt, William H. Taft and Jennings Randolph.  He came away with 16 laws of success—which were strategies that could be followed by anyone wanting to achieve success—whatever the field of expression.

What a service Mr. Carnegie and Mr. Hill provided to you and to me! We can stand on the shoulders of the giants above, and focus on the things that will enable us to achieve as they did.  We don’t need to “cover the waterfront” and learn everything, but we do need to master the right skills and apply them heartily.

In a similar fashion, there are strategies you can employ to create a pool of new major donors and to inspire your current donors to get further involved.  These are your beatitudes of major gift cultivation and harvest:

  1. Be visible—go and visit your leaders, volunteers and donors. Strike up a personal and fulfilling relationship. Learn their hearts: whom and what do they love.  How would they like to make a difference and be remembered?
  2. Be Genuine—be yourself. Let them know who you are, and show them your real self. Create a relaxed and comfortable relationships and know that you are enough!  Get real.
  3. Be honest—do not tell people anything that is not completely true to the best of your knowledge. If you don’t have the answer, say so, and then go find it.
  4. Be Determined—there is no finer quality, nor one that separates great people from the ordinary than determination. Studies have shown that grit, determination and persistence trump intelligence, physical ability, money and many other determinants.
  5. Be Available—what is more frustrating than someone who is out of sight, out of mind and unavailable when you seek them out? When we begin a consulting assignment, I know the greatest sign of pending difficulties when I see a CEO who is too busy to meet with me for days or weeks.  This is weakness exposed!   I have worked on projects where we engaged major corporate CEOs, members of the US Congress and even the President of the United States.  When involved, they ALL made themselves available or some other staff person who could carry the standard effectively.   If you cannot make time for your team, for your donors and for your community service, you are not fit to do your job.
  6. Be Passionate—be energetic and enthusiastic! For some people, like me, this is flowing through us like our blood.  Some, like me, need to throttle back on this at times to achieve the best results.  But, most donors are drawn to nonprofit leaders with a passion to solve the problems they are working on.
  7. Be Encouraging—If you are not encouraging to the people around you, that group will grow smaller and smaller as time passes. You have an obligation to be an encouraging presence, in your home, in your workplace and in your community.  Donors need encouragement, board members need encouragement, and staff members need encouragement.  If you are the CEO—you are the Chief Encouragement Officer.   Overlook that at your peril.
  8. Be Agreeable—we must work through many issues when we are collaborating with people to tackle things on scale. We must do it kindly and agreeably.  It is better to disagree kindly and respectfully rather than disdainfully and angrily.  More flies are drawn to honey than vinegar!
  9. Be Loving—people will appreciate you more once they know that you really love them, care about them and what is dear to them, and that you are doggedly determined to look after their best interest, as well as your own and the good of the whole community.
  10. Be Patient—we are all human, and sometimes we feel that we do not get the immediate response that we would like. I know I am incredibly impatient.  Yet, with the help of my wife and others who love me, I have learned not to let it frustrate me and take my peace (I have to control my emotions), because I am ultimately responsible for my feelings, and my feelings determine my actions or reactions to things.    Don’t let some small inconvenience cause you to lose your serenity.  You will be happier, and the people around you will be happier, if you determine to be joyful come what may—when it may!
  11. Be Communicative—I don’t know of a problem than cannot be avoided with good communication. I don’t know of a problem that cannot be addressed and solved with good communication.  If the South Africans can hold meetings to talk out the disappointments, indignities, inequities and inhumanity of apartheid, and then join forces—black and white—to restore and rebuild their society in a more equitable way, then where is that problem we cannot talk through?
  12. Be Appreciative—perhaps the most important thing you can do to draw donors closer, and to encourage them to give you more gifts and larger gifts, is to show them that you appreciate them and show them what they have empowered you to do. Thank them, then express your appreciation for that which they helped you accomplish and show them that you love them.

If you apply yourself to your task, and carry out your service to the best of your ability, and you employ these 12 strategies, you too will achieve success unexpected in common hours.  Bon Voyage!


David G. Phillips is President/CEO of Custom Development Solutions (CDS).  David has personally run campaigns which have raised over $750 million for nonprofits all over the world; and he has built a team of professionals at CDS that have raised over $2.5 billion. David has written, taught and lectured extensively on major gift fundraising and capital campaigns.  David and his family live in Charleston, SC.  You may contact him at: dgp@cdsfunds.com or 843-971-8801.


Custom Development Solutions, Inc. (CDS) is among the most sought after fundraising consulting firms specializing in the strategic planning and tactical execution of capital campaigns for non-profits throughout the United States and Canada.  If you have a fundraising question, please call CDS at 800-761-3833 or send an email to info@cdsfunds.com.

Topics: capital campaigns, Capital Campaigns, CDS, Custom Development Solutions, donors, Fundraising Principles, General Articles

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