While many nonprofit organizations focus exclusively on online donations, some also depend on the generosity of major gifts from wealthy donors. While the means of receiving these gifts are different, a well-executed online campaign can additionally help drive offline major gifts.

Here at Give, we naturally want to encourage donors to use our powerful online forms as much as possible. The limitation with that type of fundraising is the fees that you incur with those transactions. If you know that you have donors who want to donate a larger sum of money, you don’t want them going through your donation form where you lose more than 2% of it to a credit card processing company.

Other times, your donors don’t even want to donate something monetary — they have stock transfers or corporate matching offers they want to provide you with. Under these circumstances, it doesn’t feel right to dissuade donors from going to your online donation form — that’s your primary funnel. How can you “have your cake and eat it too” when it comes to encouraging online donations while also directing major gifts elsewhere?

This article will walk you through the considerations to keep in mind, provide insight from those in the major gifts industry, and give you tools to optimize your Give forms for offline major gift collection.

Finding Major Donors

Before we optimize our online donation campaigns for attracting major gifts, let’s address the elephant in the room: Who are major donors and where can you find them?

Naturally, there’s no silver bullet answer to this question. But there are some fundamental practices your nonprofit leadership needs to consider in order to attract large donors once they do find you.

Your leadership and board all need to be focused on donor acquisition.

Donors with a lot to offer typically want to believe in the leadership of the organization. They want to know that their investment is used wisely and prudently toward the cause they appreciate.

In order to give donors that peace of mind, your leadership has to be (a) accessible and available for donors to get to know; and (b) filled with people that donors can get behind and believe in.

Network for Good says it this way:

“The stronger the leadership is perceived to be by donors, the higher the level of trust potential donors will feel for you… The trustees and board members need to be 100% involved with as many potential donors as possible who would give at the major gift level. This involvement also means knowing the nonprofit’s mission, spreading the word, and being a willing ambassador in any manner required.”

You need to understand what kind of donor you’re dealing with.

When receiving large gifts, it’s tempting to shout it from the rooftops and sing the praises of your donors by name. Instead, you need to understand exactly what kind of recognition your donors want. Shouting their praise might be great for some, but potentially bothersome to others. Knowing the difference helps you keep their trust.

There’s a great piece in the New York Times about how fundraisers are raising over three billion dollars (yes, with a “B”) towards the arts in Manhattan. It describes the types of donors that are attracted to give to their ambitions with archetypes like “Old Money,” “Star Power,” and “the Out of Towner.”

Each of these donors has different motivations for giving and expect praise in very different ways. Knowing what motivates your donors and what kind of recognition they appreciate helps you maintain a strong relationship and makes them feel that their generosity is valued.

Just keep being you.

If you are anything like all the nonprofit leaders I know and work with here in San Diego, then you are working hard getting your mission out every day. It’s hard work, but in the long run, it pays off.

In the end, the best way to find those large donors is just you being you. Get to know as many people as you can through your social and business networks. Those who champion your cause as passionately as you do will bring the donors to you.

Can you Receive Major Gifts?

Another important factor in attracting major gifts from donors is the ability for organizations to receive the various types of wealth they may want to donate.

Michael Babida, Chief Philanthropic Officer at the San Diego Rescue Mission, stresses the importance of letting donors know that their organization is open and capable of receiving all kinds of gifts.

Babida says that it is important to “inform them that we welcome multiple types of majors gifts, from stock transfers, legacy giving, grants, corporate matching gifts along with donor-advised funds.” He mentions several different forms of giving, which allows the SD Rescue Mission to have as few barriers to generosity as possible.

It’s important to always keep in mind that generosity comes in many forms: financial, goods, services, volunteer time, advice, and matching grants. Don’t limit your ability to receive generosity from your donors.

For some small organizations, you might not have the accounting infrastructure built to accept so many different forms of donations. Under the right circumstances, it might be worth your effort to create new avenues to enable these types of gifts for your organization.

Leveraging your Online Forms for Major Gifts

Now that you know who we are targeting and the types of donations they may want to give, how do you optimize your online forms for receiving such gifts?

Here’s a quick summary of the Give tools you’ll need for this:

Essentially, we’re going to set the donation limit on our main (General Fund) donation form at $1000. Then we will customize the maximum donation message to point to a different form where major gifts are recorded.

Set a limit for online credit card donations.

Give has the ability to cap the maximum amount a donor can donate on a given form. This is an important feature for a couple reasons. For example, political donations have to be capped at a maximum amount in many countries. In our case specifically, we want to cap the maximum amount to prevent large donations from incurring substantial credit card processing fees.

Generally speaking, your organization is most likely paying roughly 2.5% plus $0.30 per donation you process (it’s different per payment gateway, payment method, and sometimes credit card type, but this is a rough estimate). For a $100 donation that just $2.80 — a totally reasonable amount for the benefit of processing donations online securely.

But when the donation gets upwards of $1000 or more you start to pay $28 per donation. That can really negatively impact your revenue goals.

Setting the maximum donation amount in your Give form prevents the donor from donating more than that amount by disabling the submit button and showing an alert like this:

"The maximum custom donation amount for this is $1,000."

To optimize this form for major gifts, we’re going to create a different dedicated form just for that purpose. Then, we’ll customize the message to point donors to the appropriate form using this snippet:

Customize Error Message for Donation Limit

add_filter( 'gettext', 'custom_max_donation_message', 10, 3 );

function custom_max_donation_message($translations, $text, $domain) {

if ( $domain == 'give' && $text == 'The maximum custom donation amount for this form is' ) {

$translations = __( 'Please go <a href="#">here</a> for instructions on donating more than', 'give' );


return $translations;


With that in place, when a donor tries to donate more than $1,000, they’ll see this instead:

"Please go here for instructions on donating more than $1,000."

Naturally, you’ll need that link to point to your dedicated Major Gifts form — which we still need to create.

For this form, we need to use the “Per Form Gateways Addon.” This allows us to limit which gateways are enabled on this specific form. In this case, we want to enable the “Offline Donations” gateway only.

The “Offline Donations” gateway is unique in Give. It allows you to display custom instructions within your donation form. This is where you’ll list all the different ways your donors can donate major gifts.

Additionally, all “Offline Donations” are processed first as “Pending.” This allows your donor to indicate that they will be following your instructions for donating their major gift and you can expect to receive it in any fashion you indicated. Then once you do receive that donation, you can manually set it in Give to “Complete.” This is useful if you want to have a “Major Gifts” campaign goal because the progress bar will not increase until the donation is changed to “Complete.”

Set a minimum major gifts amount.

Another thing we can do with this form is set a “Minimum Donation Amount.” Since our first form was set to a maximum of $1,000, this one should be set to a minimum of $1000. This ensures that the only offline donations you receive are major gifts.

Major Giving Requires Relationship

Optimizing your online donation forms for major gifts is just one small step in a long-term relationship that you want to build with your donors. Keep in mind that while your organization has missional goals, your donors have — as Babida says again — their own philanthropic goals:

“My primary focus is to increase if not maintain the support with each of my major donors.  I do this by helping my major donors accomplish their philanthropic goals and ambitions through a relationship with our organization.”

As with all things with donors, your relationship with them is what is most important. Forms are one thing, but your efforts to support them in their goals, tell the stories of your mission, and keep pushing for positive change in the world is primary.

At Give, we are honored to be a small part of all the good you are doing in the world.

Join the Conversation

We were live on our Facebook page to discuss encouraging major donors in your online campaigns. Watch the replay here.

Would you like to attract more large donations for your nonprofit? This Tuesday, join us for Give LIVE at 1 PM PST. Jeremy Dawsey-Richardson, Vice President of Programs at the San Diego Rescue Mission, will join us again to talk about best practices to encourage major gifts to your organization.

Posted by Give on Tuesday, March 12, 2019

Matt Cromwell

Matt is a co-author of Give and is Head of Support and Community Outreach for Impress.org. He loves writing docs and being "Generally helpful since birth".

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