How to Attract Mega-Philanthropy, No Matter Your Organization’s Size

By Jeffrey D. Byrne, Co-Founder + CEO at Byrne Pelofsky + Associates

I recently solicited a prospective donor – over Zoom – for an eight-figure gift on behalf of one of our capital campaign clients. I have more than 30 years of fundraising experience under my belt, but I have NEVER asked a donor for such a substantial gift through a computer screen. But such is our new reality. Philanthropy continues to move forward and remain resilient under the circumstances.

Despite the transformational events of 2020, we’ve witnessed a rise in the concept of mega-philanthropy – enormous gifts from individual donors looking to dramatically improve the world. And while I’ve been up close and personal with this sense of optimism and innovation these past few months, I’ve also witnessed a sense of hopelessness in the nonprofit sector, particularly right here at home in Kansas City.

And it got me thinking. I believe every organization should be thinking BIG right now, because many donors certainly are. They are ready to meet the moment if you are ready to meet them. Now don’t get me wrong, a mega gift will look different depending on the size of the organization. The industry typically bestows the mega-philanthropist title to the very wealthy and the majority of them are involved in the Giving Pledge. But that doesn’t mean we don’t have our own mega-philanthropists right here at home and in the surrounding regions.

Here are my top 3 tips for attracting and closing on the elusive mega-gift:

Solid Case for Support

To attract major gifts, you must have an idea or program that warrants that type of money. Again, these types of donors are interested in dramatically changing the world, not incrementally helping your organization get by. Simply put, bring them a big idea with proof that you can execute it.

Choose the Messenger Wisely

A major/mega donor needs to be wowed. So be intentional in your choice of who makes the ask. For this level of donor, the CEO/Executive Director should always be there – as was the case in my recent eight-figure ask. But think outside the box for this one. It could be the Board Chair, a volunteer with close ties to the prospective donor, or even a local celebrity.

High-net-worth individuals making gifts at this level are investing in your organization and your people. A dynamic leader that can connect with these individuals on a personal level is critical to success.

Access, Cultivation, Message

I am not suggesting that mega-donors are going to stumble upon your organization and start showering you with eight-figure gifts. Organizations still need to put in the work around access, cultivation and message. A strong reputation for doing good work amongst other philanthropic leaders is essential. These guys talk to each other! But the most important technique is to utilize your Board. Many organizations put all their work into the case for support or the ask, but not into the work of identifying and building connections through their volunteers. If there could be a strong connection between a particular donor and your cause, loop your Board into this strategic planning and start playing six degrees of separation.