Five Ways Major Gift Fundraising and Grant Writing are Alike

For many of us in the fundraising sector, it seems that people get segregated into different specialty areas: annual appeals, major gifts, special events, planned gifts, proposal writing, and grants management. I have the pleasure of working with many capital campaign and major gift specialists, including my colleague Diane Remin. Like others, she initially thought that our two specialties were very different, but upon further thought, the basics of fundraising apply to all development activities. I am happy to present her thoughts on these fundraising best practices that we all should be doing, no matter what our specialty.

Five Ways Major Gift Fundraising and Grant Writing are Alike

    By Diane G. Remin, Principal,

1)      Understanding and respecting philanthropic interest
Most foundations make it easy—they tell you what they want to fund.  For individual donors, it usually takes a conversation or two to learn where their passions lie. What is critical, in both cases, is to respect the answer.  Would you try to convince a donor to fund something in which they are not interested? Grant applications for programs that fall outside a foundation’s very clear guidelines are just like that.

2)      Relationship-Building
With major gift work, it’s all about relationship-building. In today’s ultra-competitive grant environment, developing a relationship with a Program Officer has never been more important.  Learn whether or not it makes sense to spend the time applying and receive guidance around “how much.” A relationship with a Program Officer allows you to set expectations appropriately and invest your time wisely.

3)      Storytelling
For individual donors, we know that emotions drive giving—and what better way to elicit emotion than a powerful story?  This is why storytelling has become such a popular topic in the nonprofit space.  When completing a complex grant application, it’s easy to forget that there is an actual person sitting there reading through what is likely a tall stack of applications. Touch the reader’s emotional chord (while still supplying the requisite information).

4)      Saying Thank You
There are many ways to say “thank you.” What matters is being prompt and heartfelt. Research tells us (thank you, Penelope Burk) that 71% of all thank you letters begin with “Thank you for” or “On behalf of.”  Separate your thank you from the crowd with a captivating first sentence. Add handwritten notes and phone calls into the thank you mix. And make certain at least one thank you occurs within 48 hours of receiving the gift [see #3, foundations are people too!].

5)      Stewardship     

Every funder and donor wants an answer to the question: What did you do with my money? Tell them in a compelling way, throughout the year, and you’ve increased the odds of your next grant or gift.