Association members: making major gifts?

Here’s a timely tip: maximize this revenue stream for your association or medical society

Are you leaving money on the table?

Oh, wait – that question needs some context. I’m not talking about restaurant tipping (you know, that time-honored practice wherein people choose to give something extra above what’s expected).

No, I’m talking about securing philanthropic major gifts for your organization (you know, that other time-honored practice wherein people choose to give something extra above what’s expected).

Sure, members of our associations and professional societies pay dues to receive benefits from our organizations. But increasing numbers of them are going farther, by making major gifts that support and elevate their organization’s mission.  If your organization isn’t maximizing such revenues, you’re not only leaving money on the table, but missing a valuable opportunity to increase member engagement.

Are major gifts worth the effort?

The answer is a flat-out “yes.” There’s a commonly held misperception that most charitable giving comes from corporations and foundations.  In fact, the opposite is true. According to Giving USA, 86 percent of the $485 billion given in 2021 to US nonprofits came from individuals, bequests, family foundations and donor advised funds. Foundation grants added 10 percent and corporations rounded out the final 4 percent.

That balance pretty much reveals where your real opportunities lie.

Major gifts programs pay off in some very attractive ways:

Increased financial stability. A mature major gifts program can produce 70-80% of all philanthropic revenue, helping to ensure long-term financial stability. By focusing effort on major gifts, your organization can reduce its reliance on less predictable sources of funding (like event participation and giving from foundations and corporations).

Stronger relationships with members. A major gifts program builds long-term relationships with its most committed supporters.

Increased program impact. More resources will allow your organization to expand its programs and services to create greater impact. Major gifts can support new initiatives, research, advocacy efforts, and other strategic priorities that might never happen without limited funding.

Enhanced reputation. A major gifts program can enhance your organization’s reputation; a strong base of dedicated supporters is a great “third party endorsement” that can influence other external stakeholders.

Stronger culture of philanthropy. Donors who give large gifts can change the equation for all donors. Properly communicated, a major donor’s high-profile example can cause other rank and file members to stop and consider their own commitment and aspirations. When it comes to copycat giving, a rising tide lifts all boats.

Consider the facts of life

If this all sounds great, there are some major gift facts-of-life to consider. Major gift request letters seldom work – after all, most of these donors are dipping into their assets to give, not just dashing off a check. Strong engagement is key, so you’ll have to invest in building personal relationships – a process that can take 3-18 months. Also, major donors tend to fund compelling programs and projects rather than general operations, so you’ll have to identify those opportunities and build your case.

The good news is that, with proper stewardship, major donors become more than transactional, annual fund givers. Properly stewarded, they will tend to give again and again, with a lifetime of impact on your organization.

Consultants in Association Philanthropy can help your association, association foundation or medical society establish or enhance a members major gifts program.  See the steps below and visit our website or contact Joe Skvara (; 708-990-1325) for a no-obligation 30-minute consultation.

How to start a major gift program

  • Commit your entire organization to a members major gifts program
  • Determine your priority giving opportunities and their budgets
  • Determine minimum/other levels for major gifts contributions
  • Set a preliminary philanthropic goal and initial timetable
  • Develop a compelling case for support for each of your program/project giving opportunities
  • Identify your major gifts prospects — discover if you have enough prospects in your donor base, even for a modest start:
    • Top $1,000+ annual donors for the past 3-5 years (not gov’t)
    • Top 25 donors (cumulative amount) for all time (not gov’t) 
    • Loyal donors who have given any amount every year for the past 5-10 years
    • Loyal conference and program event participants for the past 5-10 years
  • Consider conducting an electronic wealth screening of your members             
  • Recruit a major gifts committee, with a formal charge and job description
  • Create a major gifts plan; staff and committee should share their plan with your development committee, board, and select major gifts donor prospects.

Winter is Coming

Your Association’s Giving Tuesday and Year-End Fundraising Campaigns Start Now

Brad Hutchins, Principal, Consultants in Association Philanthropy

What is your association’s plan to stand out from the rest during this fall’s year-end fundraising season? How will you position your cause as the best place and most impactful organization to give to?

As fundraisers, we know a year-end’s impact on giving from individuals and family foundations. For example, Cameron Ripley at Community Boost shared at a recent conference that 30% of all donations happen between Giving Tuesday and December 31st, with ten times more donors giving on Giving Tuesday compared to an average day of the year.  For some associations, that percentage can be much higher.

As with all things, thoughtful strategy, planning and promotion of your giving opportunities are required. Below are some suggestions to help you develop a strategy and plan for your Association’s year-end fundraising campaign. This outline is intended to help you get the most out of year-end giving this year and in the years to come. Remember, it is essential to put your plan in writing and include dates and goals. This guide is meant to help prompt you and help you get the most out of the last quarter of the year.


  1. Review the prior 3 to 5 years of fundraising data and evaluate trend lines.
    • Is there a difference in online giving vs. mail appeals responses and dollars raised? 
    • Are year-end donations overall rising faster than inflation?
    • What is your average gift size, and how has it changed from year to year?
    • What is are your donor retention rate?
    • Have you seen growth in the number of new and retained donors?
    • Do you see an increase in monthly giving from your donors?
    • Who usually donates annually by now, but hasn’t made a gift yet this year?
  2. Select programs and funding priorities to promote during your year-end campaigns.
  3. Establish your financial goals for those programs selected.
  4. Draft campaign language and design collateral material. Include need, impact, sense of urgency, pictures and personal stories when possible.
  5. Develop two sets of communications for each of the programs selected. 
    • One set of communication materials for your Giving Tuesday launch
    • The second set of communications for the December follow-up campaign
    • Do not forget to include in your year-end appeals family and small foundations you have identified that align with the programs you will be promoting.
  6. Develop a strong promotions calendar for your campaign.
    • The campaign should include dates for the initial Giving Tuesday campaign and December campaign, along with follow-up communications to donors. Text will change depending upon the venue.
      • Direct mail
      • Email
      • Association or foundation website
      • LinkedIn
      • Journal and newsletters
      • Other social media platforms
    • For select Associations with broader public appeal, identify outlets that can promote your campaign and mission. Consider paid media exposure.
  7. Identify staffing and year-end responsibilities to process / acknowledge gifts.
  8. Determine if you will have a matching or challenge campaign.  If so, secure those now.
  9. Identify, secure and engage leadership and volunteer support in campaign selections.
  10. If you haven’t already reviewed the capacity and accuracy of your online giving platform this summer, then prioritize resources to this today.
    • Does it track and report gifts properly?
    • Can you personalize your electronic and/or direct mail appeals and thank you notes?
    • Does it connect to any more extensive databases of records for your Association?
    • Test your online giving program—send out impact stories of prior donations or programs. Identify online giving deficiencies and needed improvements internally to make the case for future budget needs and upgrading. A solid development software system is the cost of doing business in today’s environment.
  11. Review and update your direct mail lists for advocacy.
    • Cull out your deceased donors and donors that have only given a one-time gift in memory of someone.
    • Update any out-of-date addresses.
    • Check to ensure accuracy and ability to personalize your appeals (including spouses/significant others).
  12. Create and prepare notes of gratitude to prior benefactors.


  1. Schedule, plan and share stories with current and potential donors about your organization’s impact on crucial programs over the prior year.
  2. Secure ad/display space to promote your organization and its impact on programs.
    • On your association’s website and newsletters
    • On keyword searches used by consumers and interested parties (i.e., Google, Facebook, LinkedIn)
    • As appropriate for your mission and general public appeal, consider purchasing electronic ad space to expand for overall reach.
  3. Have campaign language vetted internally for accuracy
  4. Test your message, design and layout.
    • Giving Tuesday campaign
    • Annual Giving appeals


  1. Activate and launch Giving Tuesday campaign electronically and in print week prior to and during the week of Giving Tuesday:
    • Social media and electronic campaigns include display visibility via your Association website and LinkedIn
    • Online ads and in print (as available)
    • Giving Tuesday appeal(s)
    • Direct appeals sent through the traditional mail
    • Note: Be sure to check all state registration requirements and any legal disclaimers.
    • Continue sharing stories of impact from members and/or grant recipients who have helped make those possible.
  2. Express gratitude to donors as gifts are received.
    • Include donor’s names and amounts as well as required statements for gifts of $250 or more.
    • If you have a Giving Club, mention that in your thank you.


  1. Mid-December, launch personalized second wave of appeals to donors who have not committed or donated to your  Giving Tuesday campaign using the following means:
    • Email
    • Text
    • Mail
    • Call
  2. Share information with your donors and prospects on how you are doing toward reaching your year-end goals.
  3. Continue to express genuine gratitude to donors the day the gift is received.  Be sure to include names and amounts in your thank you.
  4. Consider sending a no-cost thank you “gift” to donors at a certain level or above:
    • A song or a curated list of music
    • Access to a particular video or online event
    • Electronic badge of appreciation
    • Number of years donating
    • First donation
    • Invitation to the Donor’s Lounge at the next annual meeting


  1. Share high-level year-end results with your donors and express thanks for their support.
  2. Call your recurring and more significant donors to thank them. Share with them the impact they are making. Consider engaging key volunteers and board members to assist in this process.
  3. Begin analysis of the year-end campaign, including the impact of display ads and print and online efforts. Remember, data goes beyond the number of donations, but the total amount raised includes:
    • Retained donors
    • New donors
    • Average gift
    • Recurring donations
    • Cost to acquire donations, etc.
  4. Hold a post-campaign team evaluation session with staff to review successes, failures, goals and improvements needed for future campaigns. This review should include software capabilities, ease of making a donation and furthering recurring giving.
  5. Begin planning the next campaign.

We’d love to hear from you about your success, creativity, and pain points with your year-end campaigns. There are more ideas and opportunities that we’d love to share with you as well.

Consultants in Association Philanthropy is prepared to help guide you and your association through your year-end campaign and help you grow and expand your donations and donor base. If you are interested in learning more, give us a call at 630.965.7708 or email us at