Encouraging Major Gifts with Online Donation Forms

Harness the generosity of wealthy donors by encouraging major giving through your online giving campaigns.
Major gifts featured image

The Pandemic of 2020 has changed a lot about the way we think of fundraising, especially when it comes to major gifts and large donations.

Traditionally, many nonprofits have relied on the generosity of major gifts from wealthy donors. The means of receiving these gifts are usually through in-person networking at events, like galas. This year, things changed: events were cancelled. The Coronavirus Pandemic has cut off a lot of opportunities to network with donors who can provide major gifts.

As nonprofits of all kinds move to online fundraising, replacing the income from major gifts is difficult. You don’t want to lose 2% of a large donation to credit card processing fees. Your donors might also want to give you a major gift that isn’t monetary – like a car or a box of masks to protect your volunteers. Some companies even donate stock options to nonprofits.

Under these circumstances, it doesn’t feel right to ask donors to leave 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 provide insight from those in the major gifts industry and give you tools to optimize your GiveWP forms to collect large donations offline.

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 continue attracting large donors.

Keep your leadership and board 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 accessible and available for donors to get to know; and filled with people that donors can get behind and believe in.

“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.”
Network for Good

In other words, your leadership and your board are the best people to recruit large donors. You might not be able to attend in-person events for a while.

How can you get your team face-to-face, virtually with potential large donors? 
Consider hosting an online “happy hour” networking event through Zoom where you send out invitations to potential major donors. Give each attendee options for a gift basket with food and beverages to be delivered before the event. This way, everyone has refreshments provided by your organization and the chance to speak face-to-face with your leadership, just like they would at an in-person gathering.

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.

How to Set Up your Online Donation 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?

We’ve already addressed the main issue with using online donation forms for large donations: the fees. So, we’re going to encourage major giving while also limiting the amount someone can give online.

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

In this example, we’ll 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 without accepting credit card payments.

Step 1: Set a limit for online credit card donations.

Each GiveWP form has the ability to cap the maximum amount a donor can donate. 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’s just $2.80 — a totally reasonable amount for the benefit of securely processing donations online.

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

Setting the maximum donation amount in your GiveWP 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."

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

Step 2: Create a major gifts form.

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

The “Offline Donations” gateway is unique in GiveWP. 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. Once you do receive that donation, you can manually set it to “Complete” in your donation database. 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.”

Step 3: 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.

Give a Gift for Major Donations
You can also use the minimum amount to include a digital donor gift with the receipt. Set up your major giving forms for many kinds of donor gifts with one of our three donor gift ideas or come up with your own.

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 — 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 GiveWP, we are honored to provide all the tools you need for donor relationships that last.

Join the Conversation

We were live on our Facebook page to discuss encouraging major donors in your online campaigns. Watch the replay here and comment to let us know if you have any questions.

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2 Responses

  1. Take your transparency to the next level by inviting major donors into the thick of it. Ask them to volunteer their time so that they can learn more about your organization etc.. Thank you for sharing this!

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