How Much Time Should It Take To Close a Major Gift?

By Laurence A. Pagnoni, MPA

How much time should it take to close a major gift? The short answer is less time than you think.  

You see, I have observed that fundraisers spend far too long cultivating donors. Cultivation can even mask procrastinating over making the ask!  

I hear this from fundraisers quite frequently: “I don’t feel like it’s the right time to ask this person for support. I am scared they will say ‘no,’ and then what will I do?  So, I keep ‘cultivating’ them.” 

Such delays lead to protracted cultivation and solicitation period and likely a missed opportunity—or clarity about the donor’s intent to give, at the very least. 

Our recent webinar, Advancing Major Gifts, contains a thorough discussion of this subject.

I’m not saying you should skip the cultivation steps. Getting to know the donor’s interests is important. I am saying that extended cultivation has diminishing returns.   

How Long? 

If you can’t move a donor or prospective donor to a gift within a reasonable amount of time – about 3 to 9 months depending on the donor’s prior relationship with your organization – it is unlikely you will be able to move them to a major gift in the near future. (New donors may take longer.) That being said, I have cultivated donors for years before securing a major gift, but in each situation, I knew where we were headed because of conversations with the donor. 

Determining what is a reasonable amount of time is best answered by the donor.  

For annual fund gifts, you can follow a calendar that asks for support regularly throughout the year.  

When soliciting major gifts, though, it is important that you ask the donor about their timing directly – preferably when you meet on Zoom or in person. I am well aware that you’re probably not meeting all of your donors in person right now, but I sure hope that you’re trying to meet at least your top 30% of givers. For tips about how to make donor calls see this link. 

It’s All About Relationships 

As you get to know your major donors, you will also better understand their personal circumstances. This will help you determine how long it takes to close. Listen to what they say about their wants. Ask probing questions to learn as much as you can with easy conversational flow – nothing forced. Many fundraisers are so distracted by their own prepared scripts that they miss what donors are saying or, more importantly, what they are not saying!  

An old-time fundraiser once told me that he determines the better fundraisers by those whose phones ring the most. He knew that conversations were needed because major gifts are all about relationships. Nothing trumps one-on-one, in-person meetings to determine how long it will take to close a major gift, or if one is even possible.  

Don’t let your discomfort or fear prevent you from asking your donors important questions. Fundraising is a volume business, and you have to push ahead and ask. 

We welcome your comments about this post on the LAPA blog.

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