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    A Complete Guide To Major Donor Fundraising At Your Animal Sanctuary

    An image of a blank check with an uncapped fountain pen resting on. top of it.
    Major gifts are a critical part of an organization’s fundraising plan, but it can feel overwhelming to start. Are you feeling anxious about starting your major gifts program? Not sure where to begin? That’s normal, and we’ve got you covered.

    Resource Acknowledgment 
    The following resource was written for The Open Sanctuary Project by guest contributor Chrissy Dinardo. Chrissy is a freelance fundraising professional with experience as a Development Manager at Woodstock Farm Sanctuary and Development Director at Luvin Arms Animal Sanctuary. She is passionate about ending animal exploitation and inspiring people to extend their compassion to farmed animals.


    Fundraising can be challenging for nonprofits, and is an ever present need for animal organizations! You can check out some basics on how to raise money for your animal organization here, and how to develop a fundraising plan here! The purpose of this resource is to focus on a very important area when it comes to fundraising: how to cultivate and foster major donor fundraising!

    What is a major gift, and why is a major gifts program important for your animal organization?
    Believe it or not, it’s been shown that, on average, 80-90% of revenue comes from 10-20% of donors. Because such a large portion of revenue comes from a small number of donors, it is essential to have a well-developed fundraising strategy for this donor segment. Without one, you are missing out on major funding potential that could expand your lifesaving work.

    Though a major gifts program takes time, lots of nurturing and tending to, and a fair amount of planning, the return on investment is much higher than any other form of fundraising. Think about this: with a pre-established relationship, in one phone call, you may be able to fund an entire rescue, a prosthetic for a special needs resident, a new barn, or obtain a year-end match. That kind of fundraising through smaller donations could take weeks, months, or even years.

    By working with major donors, you can also plan for projects for which you may not otherwise secure funding. For example, if you have a few major donors who pledge to give over the course of several years, you could plan to build a new pasture, barn, coop, or duck pond as you rescue more residents.

    So how do you define what a major gift is and who your major donors are? It’s different for every organization. Major gifts are the largest donations that a nonprofit receives – the donations that are considered a “significant” amount for your sanctuary. 

    Defining A Major Gift For Your Animal Organization

    Every Sanctuary Is Different!
    What qualifies as a major gift for you will depend on factors like the size of your sanctuary, fundraising history, and average donation size. If your major gifts look very different from those of other sanctuaries, don’t despair! Read on to learn more about how to define what a major gift means to your organization and how you can build relationships with donors over time!

    There are a few ways to determine what constitutes a major gift. Analyze the following options and see what makes the most sense for your sanctuary:

    • Make a list of all donations from the past year, sorted from largest to smallest. Is there a natural breaking point somewhere between the top three to ten gifts? If so, you can use that point as your minimum for a major gift.
    • Look at the above list and take the average of the donations that make up the top 75% of your revenue.
    • Make a list of all of your donors, sorted by the previous year’s total giving. Take the top 10% of donors and average the size of their gifts.

    You may find that a major gift for you is $250, $5,000, or even $50,000. There is no right or wrong answer; it’s different for each organization and will change as you grow, so run through this process each year to recalibrate.

    A major donor is often synonymous with someone who makes major gifts, however, you may have some folks in your portfolio who you consider major donors but who never make a donation that qualifies as a major gift. For example, if $1,000 is considered a major gift for your sanctuary and you have someone who gives $400 each month, their annual giving would amount to $4,800. At this level, they are worth adding to your prospect list as they contribute to your sanctuary in a significant way and may have the capacity to give at a more impactful level.

    Your major donor list will make up your major donor portfolio – the focused list of prospects you most want to focus your major gifts fundraising efforts on. The bigger your list grows, the less time you will have for each donor, so your portfolio should be small relative to your total number of donors. With strategy and effort, it will grow over time.

    Mindset And Approach

    Before we get into how to build out a major gifts program, let’s talk about getting into the right mindset!

    Major Donors As Partners

    First and foremost, the lens through which you view your major donors will inform all of your interactions and affect the way you approach your relationships – and your donors will feel it. Your major donors aren’t walking ATMs, they are passionate people who want to change the world for animals just like you, they just have a different way that they can contribute to the cause. Major donors are partners in your mission and they give to your sanctuary because they care about the work you’re doing and want to see you make an impact. By inviting them to give, you are connecting them with their passion and allowing them to make the difference that they want to make in the world. You are directly bringing them this fulfillment and joy!

    Relationships Are The Foundation

    The most important skill in fundraising, especially major donor fundraising, is relationship building. From the time you identify a donor prospect to when you are stewarding them after a large gift, your focus should be on building a strong relationship, clearly showing them that your sanctuary values them and their support is making a difference. Your e-appeals and general newsletter won’t cut it when it comes to this kind of relationship building.


    Donors often think of nonprofits as part of their family, story, and purpose. They are giving you money and trusting that your organization can make a real impact. Build on that trust, do what you say you’re going to do, follow up, and do your best not to break that trust. To learn more about maintaining your organization’s reputation for accuracy and transparency, we have a resource on the subject here!

    The Long Game

    CCS Fundraising found that almost 50% of major donors took about five years to start giving major gifts to the organizations they support. It’s all about keeping the big picture in mind. The work you are doing today will be laying the groundwork for a sustainable future.

    Major Gifts Exist For Your Sanctuary

    Major donors are out there and they want to give to causes that they care about. Those with the capacity and drive to give are everywhere, you just need to find them. This may be difficult to believe if you don’t have any major donors yet, but by opening your mind to this view, it will be easier to see potential where you once saw none. You will learn more about how to find these people below!

    Depending on your history and that of those around you, it may take effort to fully embody the above mindset. In fact, it doesn’t come naturally to most of us since we likely weren’t taught it! Thankfully, there are excellent resources that can support you in shifting your views – Veritus Group and Gail Perry Group (among many others) have newsletters, and Veritus Group has a podcast all about major gift fundraising and donor-centered fundraising. These resources can support mindset shifts and serve as ongoing inspiration and career development for your fundraising team.

    Getting Started With A Team

    The first step in starting your major gifts program is to identify someone to lead the program. For small sanctuaries, this responsibility often falls on the founder(s), but if you have a development director, it would be their responsibility to lead the major gifts program. Members of your leadership team and your board can be a part of the team. If you are a larger organization with a development team already in place, hiring an experienced major gifts officer with a proven track record can improve your major gifts program exponentially.

    Benefits Of A Team 
    Having a major gifts team, rather than one individual, expands your contact list, brings in new perspectives, and gives your team different strengths. Just make sure that one person is the dedicated lead and is responsible to keep the program moving forward.

    After choosing your team, look at the calendar and set up recurring monthly meetings to touch base and keep the momentum going. This will keep the team on track and ensure that you are making progress.

    Sample goals for monthly major gifts meeting include:

    • Review each major donor and have an assigned team member give updates on their donor and where they are in the moves management process.
    • Develop and/or update the communication plan for the upcoming month for each donor.
    • Review what giving opportunities exist and match them with major donors (recent rescue, prosthetic, medication, upcoming match, etc.)
    • Add any new major donors to the portfolio.
    • Look at who was asked the previous month and what follow up needs to happen.
    • Develop clear next steps for the month ahead so each team member walks away with a clear action plan.

    What Do We Mean When We Say Match?
    In our list of sample goals above, we use the term “match” in two ways. You may have major donors with particular areas of interest – for example – you might have someone who is particularly passionate about goats, who you might wish to contact in the event you have a new goat rescue. A match is also a term for when your organization secures a commitment for a large donation, which is offered when you receive additional incoming donations. It can be provided in advance, or can be conditional on meeting a certain fundraising goal. It’s a great way to get a big donation and a lot of small donations in the same effort! A major donor may be either more interested in contributing when you have secured a match, or may be interested in providing the match funds themselves!

    Download Our Major Donor Portfolio Template

    We’ve put together a template to keep track of your major gifts program, and we’ve added sample donors and communication plans to get an idea of how to use the document. You can use this template as a launching point and customize it to your animal organization. There are notes embedded in the headers to give you an idea of what each column should track. You may find that your CRM (Customer Relationship Management software) is a better place to track your program as it may auto-calculate data and reduce redundancy. Either way, it’s important to stay organized in your strategy and keep moving donors through the donor lifecycle (more on this below), deepening relationships, and ensuring that no one falls through the cracks!

    Enter either your organization’s name or your name and email below to download the Major Donor Portfolio Template!

    We promise not to use your email for any marketing purposes!

    Would you prefer to access this lesson plan in a different way? Contact us and let us know!

    Moves Management

    An image of a flow chart depicting the steps in moves management. The first bubble reads "identification." It points to a second bubble which reads "qualification." That points to a bubble which reads "cultivation." That points to a bubble reading "solicitation." That bubble points to a bubble reading "stewardship." Finally, the stewardship bubble points back to "cultivation.

    Moves Management is an approach to major donor relationships – it’s a process that tracks the donor lifecycle from identification, qualification, cultivation, solicitation, all the way through to stewardship after a major gift, and then starting back in the cycle with cultivation. The idea is that by moving the donor through this process, donors will continue to renew and upgrade their gifts, deepening their engagement and support.

    Step 1: Identification

    Identification is the first step in moves management. In this step you are identifying people who may have the potential to become major donors to your animal sanctuary. Investing in this step on an ongoing basis will grow your major donor portfolio and subsequently, the opportunity to responsibly grow your sanctuary’s capacity, expanding your impact for animals. As you identify prospects, add them to your major donor portfolio and queue them up for qualification.

    Let’s take a look at how you can identify new major donor prospects.

    Inner circle

    If you are a brand new animal sanctuary, you may not have many donors or any major donors yet, so a great place to start is your personal circle. Think about people you know who may be able to make a big gift and start there (immediate and extended family, current or former colleagues, new and old friends, etc). If you are the founder, people will give based on their relationship with you and their trust in you. Let your passion for the mission and your vision for the future shine through!

    Current donors

    Perhaps the best place to identify prospects is within your current pool of donors. If a donor is already in your database, they’ve already shown that they know you and support your mission. Look to see if anyone has given a significant gift already and add them as a prospect. Frequency of giving is also a big indicator of a donor’s affinity to your mission and can indicate larger capacity. Think about adding donors who give to most of your appeals. Mid-level donors can also be excellent major donor prospects. They’ve already proven that they’re philanthropic, interested in supporting the animals, and have a connection to your organization.

    Board members

    Board members are worth looking into both as potential major donors as well as having connections to other prospects. As a board member, they are demonstrating a high level of affinity for your mission and that they want to engage more.

    As nonprofits grow, it’s a common practice to require that board members bring in a minimum level of revenue. They can either give the full amount themselves or fundraise for that amount. If this is the case for your sanctuary, add your board members to your major donor portfolio. Keep in mind however, that there is no requirement that your board members must fundraise for your organization! They may be able to contribute to your organization in other, equally valuable ways if they have special skill sets or insights. Consider for example the value that a veterinarian, an attorney, or an accountant can bring to your board!

    Board Referrals
    If a donor is a board member referral, include your board member throughout the moves management process. Your board member can even be the primary liaison between your donor and your organization.


    Referrals are one of the best ways to find a qualified major gift prospect. Anyone can give a referral – board members, staff, volunteers, and donors (including other major donors). Referrals are generally very cost effective, highly qualified, and already have a connection with your animal organization. Start asking those who engage with your sanctuary if they know anyone who might be interested in supporting in a significant way and to connect you with them.

    Inspire Referrals!
    Referrals often come from inspiring the referrer to the point that they want to invite others to be part of your mission and can authentically do so. The best way to get referrals is to provide the best experience possible to all who engage with your sanctuary and then directly ask for referrals. As with many aspects of donor relations, you should focus on relationship building versus transactional quick wins.

    Corporate Connections

    Do you know anyone from your database, family, or friends who work in a corporate setting? They may have connections to major donor prospects and may also be able to double their own donations with a corporate match. Regularly scanning your donors’ emails for corporate addresses can give you insight into major donor prospects.


    Events of different sizes and price points can bring out major donors from your current donor pool as well as bring in new prospects. Events are a more informal way to get to know people and evaluate their interest in your sanctuary.

    Events with a high ticket price, a desirable venue (like an art gallery, a major donor’s home, a fancy restaurant, or even your sanctuary), and an event marketing strategy will have a good chance at attracting major donor prospects. At the event, prospects can learn more about your organization as well as meet staff members, volunteers, board members, and other donors who care deeply about your mission. Galas, cocktail parties, luncheons, and VIP sanctuary experiences are all great options for this type of major donor acquisition event.

    Major donors can also pop up at smaller events, like a fall festival or even a public tour of your sanctuary. Whatever the event is, always make it a point to meet as many people as possible and try to get a sense of how open guests are to making a major contribution. You never know who will pop out of the woodworks! To learn more about how to plan events for your organization, you can check out our resource on the subject here!

    Donor Survey

    Another cost-effective way to identify (and qualify) major donors is simply by asking them in a donor survey. Surveys can both give you useful information as well as make your donors feel valued and heard. It gives you perspective straight from your donors, which can be useful when developing fundraising resources. We will dive deeper into donor surveys below in the qualification section of this resource.

    Wealth Screening Software

    If you have the resources, an incredibly effective and informative prospect identification tool is wealth screening software. This type of software scans your current donor base and can provide you with highly valuable philanthropic information and wealth indicators including but not limited to: donations to other nonprofits, nonprofit involvement, real estate ownership, stock ownership, business affiliations, political giving, and demographics. All of the information that this software provides is public, so it is not infringing upon donor privacy.

    This type of software can bring prospects who you might not have looked twice at. Someone who donated $25 may have the potential to give a gift of $25,000. The first gift is not necessarily an indicator of giving potential. CCS Fundraising found that one third of major donors started out with a gift of less than $250.

    While wealth screening software can be extremely valuable, it doesn’t let you know why each donor cares about your organization or what part of your mission they’re most aligned with, so it is critical to learn more about these prospects and qualify them before investing too much time and energy into the relationship.


    Social media influencers can share your mission and bring in new donors big and small. Ask around to see if there’s anyone in your area (or beyond) who has a social media following and invite them to your sanctuary. An influencer may or may not be able to give a major gift themself, but they can help expand your reach and bring in more funding.

    Local Community Foundation Events

    Your local community foundation can bring you donors who care about what’s going on in their own backyard. By participating in their giving days or attending their annual gala you can meet people who want to support locally and may be interested in your sanctuary.

    Keep Planned Giving In Mind 
    Planned giving is a donor’s intention to give a gift at a later point in time, most commonly through an estate or financial instrument like an IRA or other retirement plan. Donors may not have the means to give a major gift today, but they may be interested in contributing in a significant way later on in life or leaving a legacy when they pass away. Investing in planned giving fundraising can help with sustainability for decades to come. Think about whether your donors can be planned givers throughout the entire moves management process, starting with identification, and engage accordingly.

    Step 2: Qualification

    Now that you’ve identified potential major donors, you’ll want to qualify them and see if you are a good fit for each other. This means taking people who you have identified as prospects in the previous step and confirming that they do indeed belong in your major donor portfolio and that the relationship is worth your limited time and energy. You’ll be exploring if it would be fulfilling for your donors and bring them joy to support your sanctuary in a significant way, and if they are financially capable of doing so. 

    When qualifying your donors, you’re investigating to confirm that they have: 

    a) Current capacity for making a major gift; 

    b) A high affinity for your mission

    c) And they are interested in engaging with you more. 

    Never assume any of these markers! Just because someone gave to you once, doesn’t mean they’re interested in giving again. You never really know until you qualify your prospects.

    Your major donor portfolio is about quality of connection, not quantity of connections. Someone who has a high affinity for your organization but doesn’t have as high of a capacity as someone else might actually donate more over time as their capacity grows and their connection to your sanctuary strengthens.

    Donor Profiles

    As you begin your research, it’s a good time in the process to create donor profiles for each prospect as you work to qualify them. A donor profile is an informative fact sheet for each major donor that contains detailed information about the donor, including capacity, affinity for your organization, giving history, wealth indicators, relationship history, and other relevant details for your dedicated team member who is responsible for the relationship. This is a living document and should be reviewed before each interaction and added to regularly as the relationship develops. It will allow you to personalize your communication, develop a solicitation plan, and track interactions so that each touchpoint builds on the last. Donor profiles are excellent tools for continuity – if a team member leaves or a new one comes in, these profiles will help team members get up to speed quickly.

    You only need profiles for those in your major donor portfolio, so if through the qualification process you find that someone is not a fit for your portfolio, you don’t need to keep a donor profile for them.

    Download Our Major Donor Profile Template!

    We’ve created a donor profile template to get you started. For ease of use, it is formatted for digital updates and can easily be printed for on-the-go donor meetings.

    Enter either your organization’s name or your name and email below to download the Major Donor Profile Template!

    We promise not to use your email for any marketing purposes!

    Would you prefer to access this lesson plan in a different way? Contact us and let us know!

    Keep Donor Information Private!
    The information contained in donor profiles should be considered and treated as highly sensitive and should be for internal use only
    , preferably only available to your fundraising team. As a best practice, you should also never include anything defamatory, just strict facts and interactions that you’ve gathered over the years.

    Past Giving

    When qualifying current donors, start by looking at the size of their gifts and the frequency of their giving. Large gifts clue you in that the donor may have major gift capacity. A high frequency of giving can indicate loyalty and a strong affinity for your sanctuary. Recency of giving and total lifetime giving are also useful markers to look at.

    Online Research

    For both current donors and prospects, online research can be a helpful preliminary step to complement qualification steps to come. Go through your prospect list and research by looking at social media profiles, internet searching, etc. Do they seem to be interested in animal rescue, advocacy, or welfare? Find out what they do for a living and the estimated income of their profession. Getting a trusted volunteer to help with this stage of the process can help you save significant time and energy, especially if you have a big prospect list.

    Donor Survey

    As mentioned in the previous section, a donor survey can not only aid in the identification of prospects, but it can also be a highly effective tool in the qualification process. Surveys can clue you in on what donors are passionate about, why they care about animals and your work, what other organizations they support, programs they care about, how they prefer to give, and whether they may be considering making a major gift. In addition to getting valuable donor information, surveys can also provide feedback on ideas, initiatives, concepts, or policies and measure donor satisfaction.

    Surveys are also highly effective cultivation tools. With a properly conducted survey, your donors will feel valued, engaged, and it will strengthen the emotional connection between you and your donors.

    This resource by MarketSmart goes into detail about how to conduct a donor survey, including sample questions, wording to use and avoid, and how to get the best response rate. Do extensive research before launching your survey to ensure that it will strengthen your connection, not harm it.

    Beyond The Survey 
    It’s essential to be extremely thoughtful in your questions and have a follow-up plan when you are conducting a donor survey, or else you could risk your donors feeling unheard or unimportant and like you have a one-way relationship. Without a follow-up plan, donors might feel like you failed to listen to their wants, needs, concerns, and desires and they may feel like you don’t care about them or wasted their time. They may even stop giving if they feel that you don’t value them! The follow up plan should be personalized and relevant, showing that you heard your donors.

    Wealth Screening Software / Prospect Screening Software 

    As discussed above, this software can not only help you identify prospects, but also aid in your qualification process. Keep in mind that this software only aggregates public information and doesn’t give you information about what specifically your donors care about, so this shouldn’t be your only qualification method.

    Tier Your List

    Now that you have a list of prospects and some basic information, you can prioritize your list. A tiered ranking system will help you prioritize relationships and the most promising leads. Your time is valuable and limited, so prioritization is essential! Your tiers will change as you continue to qualify and learn more about your donors, so don’t think too much about getting completely right at this point. You will refine you list over time.

    Here are general guidelines about how to tier your donors, though you’ll find that it’s not always black and white, so use your best judgment. Tier A is the highest priority and tier C, while still very important, is lower priority and lower engagement. Tier your donors based on the following three markers: affinity, capacity, engagement.

    • Tier A: high on all three markers. Tier A should be prioritized and your engagement with donors on this list should be high. Generally speaking, this tier should make up roughly 10-15% of your major donor portfolio.
      • Example: Someone in Tier A may have given several major gifts, including one in the prior year. They will have a high level of engagement: they may volunteer often, comment on your social media posts, respond to your emails, come to your events, know your residents well,  and you may already have an existing relationship with them. They strongly believe in your mission and may have rescued companion animals themselves. You feel confident that they have the capacity to increase their giving and be one of your top donors.
    • Tier B: high on two out of the three markers. Mid-level engagement. Tier B should make up around 40% of your portfolio.
      • Someone in Tier B may have made a major gift in the past but they are not as engaged as Tier A. Alternatively, they may be highly engaged and you know that they have a high income, but they have not yet given a large gift to your sanctuary.
    • Tier C: only one marker is high. Engagement will be less personal. Tier C should make up around 50% of your caseload.
      • Someone in Tier C could give significantly to other organizations, but they have yet to make a sizable gift to your organization. Maybe they donated $25 to a fundraiser that your board member held, but you know they give major gifts to other nonprofits. Tier C could also be someone who gives $100 monthly and is highly engaged, but you are uncertain of their capacity.
    Discovery Meetings

    Once you have a tiered system, the final qualification step is to set up time to connect to continue qualifying and assessing capacity and affinity. This step is actually a blend of qualification and cultivation since you are beginning to develop a relationship with your donors.

    Discovery meetings are not solicitation meetings – they are a time to connect and learn about why the donor gives to you, what motivates and inspires them, if they have the capacity to contribute to your sanctuary significantly, and if you should continue to invest in the relationship. Discovery meetings can be in person or over the phone. Even if you’ve already met your prospect at a gala or volunteering, a real one-on-one conversation is needed to truly start developing the relationship.

    Learn more about your donors by asking open-ended questions. This will get them talking and you’ll naturally learn more about what is important to them. Sample questions to ask during your discovery meeting might include (as applicable):

    • How did you get connected to us?
    • What inspired you to first give to our sanctuary? Why do you continue to give?
    • What are you most passionate about?
    • Why are farmed animals important to you?
    • What is your impression of our sanctuary?
    • What do you love most about our sanctuary?
    • Which of our programs do you feel most passionately about (rescues, elderly care, special needs care, humane education, advocacy campaigns, etc)?
    • What other organizations do you support?
    • How would you like to support our sanctuary? Do you see yourself becoming more involved?
    • What do you hope to accomplish with your giving?
    • What would you like to see our organization do better?
    • How do you like to spend your free time?
    • Would you consider volunteering?
    • How might you consider giving to our organization in the future?
    • How/why did you become so philanthropic?

    Ask these questions in the form of a dialogue and let the conversation naturally flow. You may find that you get some answers without even asking the question or that you don’t get to all of them. That’s okay. Revisit these types of questions during the cultivation phase to continue getting to know your donors on a deeper level.

    The Rule Of Seven 
    You may need to be persistent to get your first meeting with a donor. Your donors are busy people with their own lives. If they don’t respond to you the first time, it doesn’t mean that they aren’t interested, so be persistent! This resource has excellent tips on how to get a meeting with a donor, including how to frame the meeting, set expectations, and handle objections. Keep in mind the marketing rule of seven: in most cases, it will take on average seven touches to get a conversation with a potential donor over a three month period. If your prospect never responds after seven touches, they are indicating that they don’t have a high affinity for your mission or don’t want to develop a relationship and they don’t belong in your major donor portfolio.

    By going through the above qualification steps, you will naturally weed out those not qualified to become major donors. Whether they are qualified or not, always thank them for their time and generosity and emphasize their importance to your mission and how much their support means to your organization and your residents. Let them know that their giving is making a difference for the animals, because no matter the size of the gift, it is!

    Step 3: Cultivation

    Cultivation is all about relationship building. This is the step where you really get to know your donor intimately, and in return, they get to know your organization on a deeper level. The goal of cultivation is to build strong relationships so that your donors want to support your sanctuary in bigger and more meaningful ways. Cultivation is generally the longest and slowest step in the moves management process. Through this process, you should better understand what size gift to ask for, preferred communication channels, giving motivations, and connection to your mission. Revisit the questions from the discovery meeting section of the qualification step and aim to discuss all of those topics during the cultivation process in order to know your donor more wholly.

    Cultivation will look different for each donor based on their tier, communication preference, and personality. Using your major donor tracking system, create a personalized cultivation plan for each donor. In our provided major donor portfolio template, you will see two sample cultivation plans, along with solicitation and stewardship plans. Use a mix of engagement strategies and customize based on preferences. 

    Generally speaking, Tier A would ideally have at least one touchpoint each month, Tier B would be every other month or so, and Tier C might be once per quarter. Your touchpoint frequency and the level of customization of each touchpoint will vary based on your bandwidth and your donors’ preferences.

    When developing your cultivation plan, consider their communication preferences:

    • Through what mediums does the donor like to connect (in person, virtual, phone call, email, social media, texting, physical mail)?
    • What time of the day do they prefer?
    • If you’re meeting in person, where might they like to meet? If they are a business person, they might prefer to meet at their office or home. If they live nearby, they might like to visit your sanctuary. Coffee shops, parks, and restaurants are also good options for a casual meetup depending on the donor’s preference.
    • How often do they prefer to communicate? Balance that with their tier and your own time.

    You won’t know all of their preferences upfront, but as you get to know them, make it a point to take note of how they like to interact. You can directly ask them this. Track these communication preferences in your donor profiles.

    Being an animal sanctuary, there are neverending ways to cultivate your donors. You can get really creative with this! Here are just a few examples:

    • Send photo updates (digitally or in the mail) along with stories that highlight your residents’ personalities.
    • Send personalized videos of your residents. If a donor mentions they love when Daphne the pig takes her mud baths, send her a video of Daphne taking a mud bath!
    • Tag your donors in fun social media content that you think they’d enjoy, especially if it’s featuring their favorite resident.
    • Send a clipping of a newspaper article that made you think of them (or forward them a digital copy).
    • Connect in a coffee shop for casual meeting to give end-of-year updates and learn more about your donor.
    • Invite your donors to your sanctuary for a tour or one-on-one resident time and conversation to learn about your donors more deeply.
    • Send personal invites to events.
    • Send personal newsletters, or forward your general newsletters with a personalized message.
    • Send holiday cards.
    • Give a phone call to ask for input on a challenge.
    • If you could use their professional expertise for something, ask for their help. See if they are open to offering pro-bono services.
    • Send an email update following up on something you previously discussed.
    • Invite them to volunteer, letting them know your residents miss them.
    • Text them on their giving anniversary thanking them for X years of support.
    • Send them a birthday card.
    • Invite them to be on your board.
    • Thank them for attending a recent event and ask about their experience of the event.
    • Send a thank you card for a meeting, pro-bono services, feedback, etc.

    While you will be sharing a lot about your sanctuary, make sure that you are having a two-way conversation with your donors. Not only are they learning about your sanctuary, but you are learning about them, too. Ask personal questions when you connect, keep up to date with what they’re up to and follow up, and work in the questions from the qualification section. You can also invite their feedback, opinions, concerns, and allow them to tell their story to show that you truly value them. Plus, addressing their concerns can help clear up any doubts they may have about giving to you.

    Long Distance Donors 
    As your major donor base grows, you may find that you have donors scattered throughout the country (or world!). It may be worthwhile to plan a trip to see these donors in person. In-person connection strengthens your relationship and it will help you to get to know your donor in a way that only happens through in-person interaction. You can do this throughout all stages of the moves management process, but it can be particularly helpful during cultivation and solicitation.

    Cultivation is also the stage where you set an annual revenue goal for each prospect. Through the cultivation process, you should be able to get a pretty good idea of the size gift that your donors want to and are able to make. These goals will make up your overall major giving goal in your fundraising plan. You can track these targets in your donor profiles.

    A few more cultivation tips:

    • Don’t rush the relationship. Time is a key ingredient in any deep relationship, along with frequent, intentional, and authentic contact. If you spend the time and energy cultivating a strong relationship over time, solicitation will be much easier. Keep the long term in mind.
    • Listen deeply. Learn as much as possible about their interests, values, and vision for a better world for animals. There are often subtle cues about what the donor likes or dislikes sprinkled throughout casual conversation.
    • Create trust by being impeccable with your word and doing what you say you’ll do.
    • Take comments, concerns, and complaints seriously and follow up.
    • Maintain an open line of consistent, respectful, and authentic communication. Make sure your touchpoints are wanted and that donors feel that they can reach out and talk to you. If you are overstepping your donors’ boundaries, you may inadvertentlypush them away.
    • Track each touchpoint in your CRM and/or your donor profiles, along with anything notable that comes up in conversation. This is critical in order to come across as professional, cohesive, and to show your donor that they matter to you. Imagine these two contrasting scenarios:
      • Your donor mentions to your development director that their just mother passed away. A few months later, your executive director mentions at the end of an email that they hope your donor’s mother is doing well. Not only may your donor feel unimportant and unseen, but it may dredge up big emotions. Comprehensive tracking can prevent this from happening. 
      • Your donor tells you that their daughter is just about to start at a new school and is feeling nervous. A few weeks later, you text them and check in to see how their daughter is adjusting. Your donor may feel heard, important, and touched. That is relationship building at its finest!

    Cultivating During Hardship 
    Continue to cultivate during financially difficult times (recession, pandemic, job loss, etc). This is a long term strategy. Show your donors that you still value them, even when they can’t give right now. Not only is this the compassionate thing to do, but it may prove to be worthwhile if your donor is in a better position to support you in the future.

    Step 4: Solicitation

    Solicitation is the step where you get to give your donor the opportunity to directly connect with their passion and fund your vital work at the same time. It’s a beautiful and exciting time!

    Much like you don’t want to rush the relationship in cultivation, you don’t want to rush your ask. Make sure your donor is ready. For some existing donors, they’ll be ready to give after 4-5 interactions, while others might not feel comfortable until 10 or more. Take your time. The more time you spend getting to know your donor and putting in genuine effort to build a relationship, the easier the ask will be and the stronger your relationship will be in the long term. As you get to know them and they get to know you, a natural opportunity will arise.

    When developing your ask, consider both an amount that feels appropriate as well as an initiative that they are passionate about. Remember, you are connecting the donor with their passion and bringing them joy. That won’t happen if you ask for something they don’t care about! If you’ve cultivated them properly, you should have a very good idea about what and how much to ask for. If you aren’t clear on this, you probably aren’t ready to solicit them.

    Look through your budget for this year and next and think about what your donor might be interested in based on your conversations. Some ideas about what your donor could fund might include:

    Once you have a project in mind, start preparing for your ask. Reflect on the below questions before every big ask. This is a powerful process, so you should take your time with it. Your answers will clue you in on how to frame your ask, what to focus on, if you need more information, and it will confirm that you are asking for the right gift. It will also get you in a donor-focused state of mind.

    • How has my donor indicated that they’re ready to give a gift right now?
    • How does the size of this ask compare to my donor’s previous gifts?
    • In what ways has my donor indicated that they’re ready for a gift of this size?
    • In what ways has my donor indicated that they’re interested in contributing to what I’m asking them to fund?
    • How does this gift support my donor’s vision?
    • What part of this ask will my donor be most excited about?
    • Why is it important for them to give right now?
    • How will this gift change the lives of current and future residents?
    • What doors will open up as a result of this gift?
    • How will the donor feel about giving this gift?

    After you spend time with these questions and you are feeling confident about your ask, you can set up your solicitation meeting. An intimate setting like a home or office is best, rather than somewhere public like a coffee shop. Meeting face-to-face is also preferable because the connection is stronger. Bring any relevant materials like pictures, architectural mock-ups, brochures, etc. Anything that will help your donor visualize what they will be making a reality is helpful! It can also be a good idea to have backup options of different price points in case your donor directly tells you a different amount that they’d like to contribute.

    When asking for the meeting, it is good to give your donor an idea that you will be making an ask. You can frame it that you’d like to talk about how they can specifically support the sanctuary. If they ask if you are asking for money, be honest! Relationships are built on honesty and trust. You can simply respond by saying something like “Yes, I’d like to discuss how you might invest in our sanctuary in a bigger, more meaningful way.”

    Your meeting should follow an outline rather than a rigid script, to allow for flexibility and open dialogue. A general overview for your meeting can look like this:

    • Casual small talk;
    • Thanking the donor for their past giving and letting them know how it has made a difference;
    • Presenting your giving opportunity through storytelling and with enthusiasm and urgency;
    • Connecting the opportunity to your donor’s vision;
    • Asking for their thoughts and feelings about the opportunity;
    • Making your ask;
    • Sharing your gratitude, no matter what the answer is;
    • And discussing next steps

    The Veritus Group has a simple step-by-step guide for how to actually make your ask, including flow for your meeting, language to use, and materials to prepare. If you’d like to do some more reading, they also have a blog series about permission-based asking that can help you prepare even more.

    Follow up after your meeting, no matter what their answer is. You can outline next steps, including asking if their employer may match their donation, and always extend ample gratitude.

    What If Your Donor Declines Your Ask?
    When going into your meeting, always prepare for a “no” or some pushback. It may be that your donor doesn’t have the funds, so a smaller gift is more appropriate. It can also mean that the project isn’t a good fit. “No” can also mean “not right now.” You’ll have to investigate to find out what your donor needs. Empathize and ask questions to know your donor even deeper and to understand how you can better connect them to opportunities in the future.

    This can also be an invitation to evaluate your strategy. Did you ask before they were ready? Did your ask match their interests? Was the ask too much of a stretch? Was it too big of an increase from their last gift? Was it unclear where their money would go?

    Step 5: Stewardship

    Your animal sanctuary received vital funds to keep doing lifesaving work. Great job! Now it’s time to steward your donors. Stewardship is acknowledging, recognizing, and thanking your major donors in meaningful ways. This is perhaps the most important step because it is your best shot at donor retention, and it is laying the foundation for another, larger gift. On a personal level, your donor just made a significant financial investment in your sanctuary and they deserve to be acknowledged and thanked accordingly! Always steward more than you think – and then a little bit more than that. Gratitude not only makes your donor feel important and like they made a meaningful difference, but gratitude has been shown to increase the quality of life for the person extending the gratitude, too. It’s a win-win!

    Consider how your donor would like to be thanked. When in doubt, ask them! Do they like public recognition or would they prefer to remain anonymous? Always ask before acknowledging publicly. Would they accept a physical gift?

    Remember Your Obligations With Regards To Donee Acknowledgment Letters! 
    The Internal Revenue Service requires that your donors substantiate their donations in order to take tax deductions. Donee acknowledgment letters are an important way for your organization to help your donors meet this requirement. For a detailed discussion of how to write a donee ackowledgment letter, and what it should include, you can see our resource on the subject here!

    Thank Yous

    Stewardship is such a fun step because you can be really creative with how you acknowledge and thank your donors. Here are just a few ways to do so:

    • Sharing a personalized video of your residents and/or the specific project they funded;
    • Naming capital (barns, pastures, buildings, etc);
    • Naming an incoming resident after the donor (or someone special to them);
    • A thank you call from your founder/executive director;
    • A photo card signed from staff;
    • A photo package in the mail of your residents;
    • A photo book showing the impact of what they funded;
    • A social media shout out;
    • A merchandise package (t-shirt, mug, calendar, hat, etc);
    • A special feature on your website;
    • One-on-one time with residents;
    • Adding them to a donor appreciation area at your sanctuary (listings on a donor wall, engraved bricks in a garden, plaques, etc);
    • A gift basket with their favorite vegan goodies;
    • Or an acknowledgement in your annual report!
    Impact Updates

    In addition to extending gratitude, stewardship is also about showing the donor the impact they are making with their giving. Donors want to know that their contributions are directly making a difference, so send them updates on the progress of what they’re funding. When you are sharing impact, always try to tie in your mission and your donor’s vision. Zoom in on specific details and zoom out on the bigger picture. Add these updates to your calendar and your major donor tracking system to ensure that they happen.

    Impact updates can look like:

    • If your donor funded a rescue or a medical procedure, send before and after photos. Give weekly updates for the first few weeks, and then months (and even years!) after.
    • If they funded part of your humane education program, let them know their impact (number of visitors, testimonials from visitors, etc).
    • If they funded a rescue vehicle, let them know when and how the vehicle is used as you are using it.
    • If they funded a new position, update them on how that new hire is creating impact and maybe schedule an introduction. The new hire can also send a thank you card.
    Major Donor Societies

    A popular way to steward your major donors is by creating a branded major donor society. A major donor society is a formal program to recognize donors who give at a certain level annually. Donor societies are a way for your donors to feel even more seen, valued, emotionally-connected, and part of a like-minded community. People like to be part of something unique!

    On your end, it can foster loyalty and increased giving among your top donors. Membership into a society can also encourage major donors to give more – if someone is thinking about a gift of $3,000 but $5,000 gets them into the society, they may increase their donation.

    If you decide to employ this strategy, you’ll need to decide what the minimum annual giving amount will be for donors to be a part of the society. You can name it after one of your residents, like Hugo’s Heroes, Sam’s Circle, Frida’s Friends, or Leo’s Leaders. Get creative with it!

    Donor benefits provided to society members can also serve as stewardship for those in the group. In addition to the above stewardship examples, other examples of benefits for your society can include:

    • Appreciation luncheons;
    • Merchandise giveaways;
    • Happy hours;
    • Dedicated email newsletters;
    • Quarterly updates from your founder or executive director;
    • Tables at your gala;
    • VIP tours;
    • And customized mailing with exclusive insights about your sanctuary, programs, and impact!

    Cautions To Consider With A Major Gift Society 
    If you have a society, make sure you are still doing individual stewardship, cultivation, and solicitation. Don’t let the society be the only form of interaction with your donors – you still need to develop strong one-on-one relationships. Also, you may find flat giving year over year if your donor’s main focus is hitting the minimum amount to get into the society. Ask for and encourage increased giving year over year and focus on impact, with the society as an added benefit to giving, rather than membership in it being the goal.


    Throughout your moves management process, track your performance metrics like number of meetings, asks made, gifts secured, average major gift size, and major donor conversion and retention rates. This will help you to know what you’re doing right and what you could improve on. Tracking and evaluating is important for all fundraising work, but especially with major gifts.

    You should now have all you need to get started with or enhance your major gifts program. You are doing even more good in the world by investing with this vital fundraising strategy. When in doubt, focus on strong, authentic, two-way relationships. With that foundation, everything else will flow more naturally and you will be able to connect your donors to their passion and in turn continue and expand your lifesaving work!


    How To Raise Money For Your Animal Sanctuary | The Open Sanctuary Project

    How To Develop A Fundraising Plan For Your Animal Sanctuary | The Open Sanctuary Project

    Accuracy And Transparency: Two Critical Responsibilities Of Your Farmed Animal Sanctuary | The Open Sanctuary Project

    Envisioning A Successful Event At Your Animal Sanctuary: Looking At A Step-By-Step Plan | The Open Sanctuary Project

    Sanctuary Educational Programming: What Are Your Options | The Open Sanctuary Project

    Understanding Donee Acknowledgment Letters At Your Animal Organization | The Open Sanctuary Project

    Education Program Evaluation For Animal Sanctuaries | The Open Sanctuary Project

    How You Can Use The 80/20 Rule To Raise More Money | The Better Fundraising Co. 

    How Small Donors Become Major Donors: Analyzing Major Donor Pathways | CCS Fundraising

    Passionate Giving Blog | Veritas Group

    Nothing But Major Gifts | The Veritas Podcast

    Gail Perry Group

    Donor Surveys: The Ultimate How-To Guide For Nonprofits | Market Smart

    Foolproof Ways To Get A First Meeting With A Major Donor | Amy Eisenstein

    Steps To Making A Successful Ask | Veritas Group

    Permission-Based Asking: An Introduction | Veritas Group

    The Reciprocal Relationship Between Gratitude And Life Satisfaction: Evidence From Two Longitudnal Field Studies | Frontiers In Psychology

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