What is 3-to-1 Major Gift Fundraising?

Greg Warner is CEO and Founder of MarketSmart, a revolutionary marketing software and services firm that helps nonprofits raise more for less. In 2012 Greg coined the phrase “Engagement Fundraising” to encapsulate his breakthrough fundraising formula for achieving extraordinary results. Using their own innovative strategies and technologies, MarketSmart helps fundraisers around the world zero in on the donors most ready to support their organizations and institutions with major and legacy gifts.

give back words  in wood fontsLet’s face it, your supporters want something in exchange for their cash. But, sadly, many nonprofits don’t give.
This compelled me to come up with a simple methodology that I call “3-to-1 Major Gift Fundraising.” It works to help fundraisers maintain a “giving” mindset as follows:
For every single donation you receive from a major supporter you should (1) thank them, (2) report on the results, and (3) provide an engagement offer before asking for another gift.
One Thank You + One Report On Results + One Engagement Offer = Ask For Next Gift  
To put this idea into action, why not draw three checkboxes beside the donor’s name once you receive a single gift? Then, after you send your personalized, heartfelt letter of gratitude, you can put a “check” in the box beside the words “Thank you.”
Next step, find a way to report what happened to your donor.  Be honest. Be transparent.  Personalize it as much as possible.  And be real!  Once you’ve done that, put a “check” in the box next to the words “Report on results.”
And, last, reach out to the donor to offer a meaningful engagement experience.  Email her a chance to view a video of the environmentalist doing great things as a result of her support.  Send her a note from the child she helped cure. Invite her to watch the opening night performance of the symphony for which she helped provide instruments. Once you have provided that engagement offer, then you can put a “check” in the box next to the words “Engagement offer”.
After all three checkboxes have been filled, then you can consider asking for another gift. And I bet you’ll get it!
Want to get started with 3-to-1 major gift fundraising? Click here to get a free sample of the 3-to-1 fundraising sticky pads.
3-to-1 Major Gift Fundraising! What do you think?


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12 responses to “What is 3-to-1 Major Gift Fundraising?”

  1. I like it! This is a nice simple paradigm to remind fundraisers to channel an attitude of gratitude and keep their donors — and how THEY feel — front and center at all times.

  2. Greg Warner says:

    Thanks so much Claire!!

  3. Susan says:

    It’s clean and simple, I like it!

  4. Greg Warner says:

    Thanks Susan. That’s what I always aim for. Simplicity!

  5. Lawrence Henze says:

    Hello Greg, I like the concept but I would initiate it before a donor reached the major gift level. I believe that we fail to cultivate many of our best major gift prospects because we do not develop a special relationship with them as their giving is growing. So extend the concept to major gift prospect development (planned gift as well) and I love it.
    FYI, the 3-to-1 concept may confuse some people who have been professionally trained to expect that for every closed major gift you need at least 3 or 4 prospects; you may have heard people discuss a 3 to 1 prospect to donor ratio?
    Thanks for your continued thought provoking questions and comments!

    • Greg Warner says:

      Thanks Lawrence. I agree and think this could/should apply to direct mail and email blasts too. Nonprofits should send a thankyou, then a welcome kit, and report on the results…. then they can ask again. Expensive? Maybe. But will it stop donors from leaving? I think so.

  6. I’ve got something I’ve used for years, and it’s quite similar. I began using it with my legacy donors, and for them we had a “Carob Tree Society” [based on the story of the traveler who comes upon an old man planting such a tree… he says “Old man, why do you plant such a tree when you know you won’t live long enough to enjoy it’s shade?” The man responds “As my ancestors planted for me, so do I plant for those who will come after me.” Hence…
    T R E E is my paradigm:
    You’ve got to tend to the TREE if you want to pick the fruits again next year. So… after the gift is closed:
    1. Thank within 48 hours.
    Make sure the right person (or people) make the thank you(s).
    2. Report.
    Report back to the donor and tell them the impact of their gift. Otherwise, you won’t get another gift. Period. This is a hugely important, and too-often overlooked, step.
    3. Engage.
    Offer your donor a meaningful way to feel connected to your work, and to your community, before you ask again. I like to do this right away. Sure, you’ll likely develop another individualized stewardship plan for this donor for the coming year. The point is that you don’t have to wait to begin!
    4. Enjoy.
    Bask in the shade of your tree and take the time to just enjoy. It’s not always harvest time. When you learn to enjoy this process you become a much better fundraiser. Because you relax. And this helps your donor to relax. You lean on the tree; it leans on you. You become a mutual support system.
    What do you think?

  7. Greg Warner says:

    The sticky note pads I bought are in! Allows for 6 donors per pad, 50 sheets per pad… 300 donors with whom to properly cultivate relationships.
    Email me at if you want some!

  8. Terrific ideas that show intentional relationship management. Thanks!

  9. Michael Katz says:

    Love the pad idea. I’m a visual learner and it’s a great way to concretely share the idea with staff and volunteers. Claire’s TREE analogy is also nice for explaining it in ways people will remember. Thanks for sharing.

  10. Conni Hinkel says:

    I like this a lot. I like the simplicity and with that, the flexibility – you could drop these three “checkmark” areas into any spreadsheet or donor tracking tool.

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