Major Gifts

When parishioners of your church and members of your diocese feel deeply connected to the mission and ministry of the Church, they may feel called to give significant financial donations to support that work in impactful and transformational ways. Your major giving strategy creates opportunities for individuals to give gifts across a variety of campaigns – special projects, capital campaigns, annual stewardship drives, and planned giving – and will draw from the Bible’s message that we are all called to give generously from the abundance that God has given us:

“But who am I, and who are my people, that we should be able to give as generously as this? Everything comes from you, and we have given you only what comes from your hand. […] 16 Lord our God, all this abundance that we have provided for building you a temple for your Holy Name comes from your hand, and all of it belongs to you.” 1 Chronicles 29:14 and 16

How do you raise major gifts when a “major gift” is a different dollar amount for every congregation and diocese and you do not know how much each person or household is able to give?

Before you Start…

Before you begin your work, it is important that your organization is prepared to receive a major gift by updating gift acceptance policies.

After your infrastructure is both solidified and rooted in your organization’s “Why”, you may be prepared to invite others into a giving opportunity. Using tools such as the constituency model, prospect research tactics, moves management, and other planning devices, Project Resource materials teach you how to take the guess-work out of major giving.

Basic steps to successfully raise major gifts

Following below is a comprehensive walk-through of the eight steps to successfully raising major gifts:

  1. Identify Prospects

  2. Qualify Prospects

  3. Develop a Strategy and Timetable

  4. Cultivate the Gift

  5. Solicit and Negotiate the Gift

  6. Acknowledge the Gift and Follow-up with the Donor

  7. Steward the Donor

  8. Renew the Donor’s Gift


1. Identify Prospects

How do you draft your list of potential major gift prospects?

Two methods of careful thought are helpful in generating a list of prospects:

  • Use the Constituency Model to determine who is mostly closely linked to your congregation through both past/current involvement in ministries AND as an advocate for the congregation through leadership roles.

Find the Constituency Model here: (example and blank template)

  • Clergy should provide pastoral discernment and relevant knowledge of each prospect’s life circumstances; is now the right time in this person’s life to ask for a gift?

Think also about who already has a personal interest in the project or a related cause!


2. Qualify Prospects

How do you refine your list of potential major gift prospects?

Two methods of further research are helpful in paring down your list of prospects to those households who might have the capacity to give a major gift:

  • Consult the household’s annual giving history to learn if they have a history of giving large financial gifts to the congregation.

    • Sort your current annual stewardship donor list by the dollar amount of the gift/pledge (from largest to smallest).

    • Look at your congregation’s current “major givers” to the annual stewardship campaign: the households listed in the top 20% of the donor list; the total of this segment should amount to approximately 60% of the financial total of the annual campaign.

    • Repeat this exercise for several past years’ annual stewardship donor lists and compare the results.

  • Search online for publicly available philanthropy.

    • Use online prospect research databases, if that is affordable for your congregation, such as Donor Search, ResearchPoint (by Blackbaud), iWave.

    • Investigate other local nonprofits’ donor lists, which are often published online or in their annual reports by giving tier.


3. Develop a Strategy and timetable

Ensure that your case statement is polished and refined for this specific campaign:

  • Articulate the “Why”

    • Mission and vision of congregation/diocese

    • Connect the need to the mission and vision

  • Create the congregation’s Wish List (LINK to PDF example)

    • Project

    • Cost

    • Timeframe

Strategize your “moves”… Using the Moves Management framework, develop a plan the cultivation, solicitation, and follow-up for each prospective donor. Be specific about your timeframe, actions, locations, and people involved in each move. The purpose behind using Moves Management is to become focused, strategic, and goal-oriented in your fund development process.

Moves Management Framework Overview:

  • 6 Cultivation Contacts – Invest the time and effort to grow your relationship with the prospect and grow the prospect’s connections to the project.

  • 1 Ask – In a carefully planned interaction, solicit the gift from the donor.

  • 1 Follow-up – Plan for a follow-up interaction with the donor to confirm details.

Here is a template to use in planning your “moves”

Finally, establish a clear plan for an internal feedback loop – reporting your progress and staying on-task with each “move.” Who will be the leader that tracks the group’s progress?


4. Cultivate the Gift

We know what you’re thinking… SIX cultivation contacts?? Yes, six.

Cultivation contacts can be one-on-one meetings or meals, group events, phone calls, letters, exclusive newsletters, site visits, and they should occur over a reasonable period of time.

Here is a great post with additional cultivation ideas for you.

Follow your Moves Management cultivation plan, and be sure to report progress to the leader keeping track of your moves.


5. Solicit and Negotiate the Gift

Before making the “ask,” you must answer two key questions to plan for the solicitation:

  • Where will the ask occur?

  • Who will do the ask?

Here is a template to use in planning the details for each “ask”

Roll playing and practicing the solicitation conversation are always a good idea! As the saying goes, practice makes perfect


6. Acknowledge the Gift and Follow-up with the Donor

Acknowledging a gift and thanking for a gift are two different actions, which we often mix-up or use interchangeably. We might only acknowledge a gift one time, but you should thank for a gift seven times. Yes, SEVEN.

Acknowledgement involves using conversations and/or letters to recognize an individual gift and is somewhat more transactional in nature. Examples of ways to acknowledge a gift:

  • Following the solicitation meeting with a call or second meeting to review additional details of the gift

  • Sending a form acknowledgement letter with tax deduction information once a donation is receive

Thanking involves using a variety of mediums to recognize and show appreciation to an individual or group of individuals and is somewhat more emotional in nature. Examples of ways to thank for a gift:

  • Phone calls – a personal call from clergy, campaign chair, wardens, or an individual impacted by the gift

  • Hand-written notes – a thank-you note from clergy, campaign chair, wardens, or an individual impacted by the gift

  • Email or mail newsletters – article highlighting a project, donor, or list of donors

  • Videos and photographs – a visual representation of what the gift accomplished with messages such as “Look what we did together!” or “We couldn’t have done it without you!”, shared in e-newsletters, on website, and/or on social media channels

  • Appreciation events – all individuals giving to a campaign or giving at the major gift threshold are invited to an exclusive event

  • Annual reports – list of donors at each giving level

  • Here are a few other lists of ideas:


7. Steward the Donor

Thanking is an important element of stewarding a donor, but there are other ways to continue to build and grow the relationship:

  • Ask for input – This does not mean letting the donor take control; it means inviting the donor’s opinions or ideas into future decision-making processes that affect the ministry, program, or facility they funded.

  • Demonstrate the impact– Give the donor reports that show the results of their gift in real numbers: how many people’s lives were touched, what was accomplished, etc.

  • Invite more involvement – Ask the donor to become more deeply connected through time and talent, either within the congregation, generally, or with ministries or programs directly impacted by their gift. (Remember the Constituency Model? The idea here is to move the donor toward the center.)

  • Spend time with them NOT asking for a gift – Invest in building a relationship with the donor; get to know the donor as a person, not just as a checkbook.

  • Here are some more ideas from


8. Renew the Donor's Gift

When the time is right, return to the donor to ask for another gift.

How do you know when the time is right? It depends!

It depends upon…

  • The life circumstances of the donor – Since you have invested in getting to know the donor as an individual, not a checkbook, you might learn about personal or professional changes (job change, marital status change, children/dependents changes, retirement, inheritance, investment successes, etc.) that can suggest when it is a good or a bad time to ask for another gift.

  • The needs of the congregation – Are you asking for something that is necessary and transformational in the life of the congregation? Remember to root all asks in the “Why”… If there is no compelling “Why,” perhaps it is not the right time to ask.

  • The connection between the donor and the need – Does the donor have an interest in the ministry, program, or facility you would like to fund? Asking the donor for a gift that does not connect with the donor’s personal interests and passions might be unwise and contribute to donor fatigue (a tiredness that results from asking too frequently) or damage the relationship (“They weren’t even listening to me and don’t understand me like I thought they did..”).