Dealing with major partners is often the most intimidating part of Development for a ministry leader, and that intimidation usually leads to it being conveniently overlooked. It makes sense that this area would conjure up some nerves; for many, it's easier to ask 200 people to provide $50,000 than one person because you're asking less of each individual and you don't need to be so specialized in the way that you ask. But is this intimidation justified? Yes and no.
On the one hand, you should be intimidated by Major Partner Work because it requires much greater forethought and deliberation than a general ask. You are meeting with the people you know who have the greatest potential to impact your ministry's finances, and even more intimidating: you're not the first. They have probably had many similar meetings in the past and have learned what to expect. Going into this process blind has the potential to hamstring any future giving the person might consider. That said...
On the other hand, you shouldn't be intimidated by Major Partner Work because you have everything you need to succeed! First and foremost, you are being led by God, who will go before you to make a way for ministry. Almost just as important is that the person you're meeting with is being led by God - if God wants to create a deeper partnership between your team and this person, He will make it happen.
Aside from that, you have this site. The professionals at TeamGold have gone before you as well, learning how to best initiate and grow these relationships. Major Partner Work is a lifelong education, so no matter where you're at in the process we're sure you'll be helped by what TeamGold has to offer.
UNDERSTANDING THE CONTEXT
Before you dive into the training below, it's important that you put Major Partner Work within its proper context. If you're just starting out with Development for the first time, there might be some other steps to take before your first $50,000 ask. There are five main areas of any thriving Development strategy. We've detailed each of those five areas in our training called Five Lanes of Effective Development.
Once you've read about the Five Lanes and feel like you have a basic understanding of the scope of your ministry's Development efforts, you can move on to read more below.
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We know that your time is limited when it comes to Development - you have many more responsibilities to fulfill and areas to get educated in. What's more, if you're starting to think about Major Partner Work, you're probably already doing other things in the area of Development that brought you here.
The first step you should take is to evaluate your team's current status in the area of Development as a whole - check out our Levels of Development tool to see where your team might fall. If you're at a level where it's appropriate to begin Major Partner Work (say, Level 5 or higher) you'll want to evaluate how you're doing in the area of Major Partner Work specifically.
To do this, you should start by watching the video below from Larry O'Nan, who is a veteran Development consultant. Larry has worked with ministries around the world to grow their major partner strategy, and in this video he shares twelve things that must be true of your Major Partner Work. For a summary of Larry's video, you can read our blog post titled 12 Critical Factors to Develop a Major Partner Strategy
MAJOR PARTNER CYCLE
The Major Partner Cycle is the most crucial curriculum for you to go through if you're just starting out with major partner work. In fact, it's so important that we have an entire section of our site dedicated to teaching you this process - just go to www.teamgold.co/MPC. If you don't have time to look through the whole MPC right now, here's a quick video overview.
The MPC is a 7-step process that teaches you how to take any potential partner from an acquaintance or referral all the way to being a dedicated, long-term partner of your ministry. Even though we call it the 'Major' Partner Cycle, it applies to most of our partners (to varying degrees).
Here are a few of the most important lessons within the MPC that many tend to miss:
Length of the Cycle: There is a good chance you won't ask a partner to give a gift for months or even a year after you begin the MPC with them.
Capacity & Inclination: The first big chunk of your relationship with a partner is dedicated to learning if they have the ability to give a major gift (capacity) and if their ministry passions line up with your ministry's objectives (inclination). You will never plan to ask for a gift until you know the answer to both of those is 'yes'.
The Four Asks: There are actually four times that you'll ask your partner for something, and only the fourth one is related to money.
ENGAGEMENT & CULTIVATION
CULTIVATING THE RELATIONSHIP
As you have hopefully seen in the Major Partner Cycle, the vast majority of your time working with Major Partners will be spent getting them involved in the ministry and cultivating your relationship. On your annual calendar, only a small number of blocks will be spent beginning new relationships and asking for financial gifts.
Depending on your personality and giftings, though, this section of the process is probably either the most exciting or the most daunting. You're either thinking, "Yes! I love building relationships - it's what my job is all about!" or "Can't I just get to the part where I ask them for money? I don't have the time or mental energy to make a new friend right now."
Whichever of those camps you identify more with, it's important for you to give significant forethought to the cultivation of your relationships. A relationship with a partner is very similar to the cultivation of a plant - if you tell yourself, "I don't have the time to water it now, I'll do it when I'm finished with these other things" you're destined to lose the plant. You need to make cultivation a regular, frequent part of your job responsibilities.
That said, 'cultivation' doesn't have to be something huge; not every interaction with a partner is a 2-hour phone call or meeting them to share a meal. It could be a quick phone call, a handwritten note, connecting them to someone with similar interests, or simply praying for them. Watch this video from our site's founder, Jim Dempsey, where he outlines what effective cultivation looks like including a list of 27 potential activities for you to cultivate relationships.
FINDING ENGAGEMENT OPPORTUNITIES
As you cultivate your personal relationship with a partner, it will only be natural to cultivate the relationship between the partner and your ministry as a whole. Again, make sure to read the Major Partner Cycle to find a more detailed and directive look at the idea of engaging partners in your ministry.
Remember the principle of LIFE Partnership - finances are only one dimension of how your partners can invest in your ministry. Even more than that, few partners will consider giving to your ministry before they've gotten involved in a tangible way. Or, perhaps a better way to put it is that they will need to get involved before they consider giving a large, faith-stretching gift rather than their standard gift.
The first engagement opportunity you'll present to your partner is passive - one where all that's required of them is to attend or experience your ministry. Once they've viewed your ministry and understand what you're about, you'll ask them to make an active engagement - one where they are actually participating in and enhancing your ministry activities. Not every partner can contribute in the same way to any given event or outreach. Hopefully at this point you've cultivated the relationship enough to know what type of involvement will be the most mutually beneficial for each partner.
UNDERSTANDING THE MAJOR PARTNER
In addition to learning about the life, passions, and potential of each individual partner, you might find it helpful to learn about major partners in general. How do they think? What motivates them? How can we best minister to them?
For the answers to those questions and more, watch the following video from Todd Harper, the founder of Generous Giving.
You may also find it helpful to spend some time listening to real major partners share about their experiences and the ways that they have gotten engaged within the ministry. We've made a playlist where you can access more than 5 hours of interviews with various partners.
ASKING FOR THE GIFT
This is the big question, isn't it? When most people think about Major Partner Work, the appeal for a gift is the first thing that comes to mind. But there's a reason this section is at the bottom of the page - there's a lot of work that needs to be done before you ask someone to give a financial gift. If you looked at this page and the first thing you did was skip past all the other sections to get here, STOP and take the time to go through what we've listed before. Not only are the other sections packed with vital information, but what you find here won't make much sense without the foundation we've laid earlier on.
There's a reason that the people who only associate Major Partner Work with the Ask are typically the most anxious - because they're forgetting (or don't know) that the Ask is just the finish line. Or, better yet, it's more like a checkpoint because the Ask is always followed up by another trip through the Major Partner Cycle. Some of the most common questions people have surrounding the Solicitation step of the MPC include:
What should I say during the meeting? How do I actually ask them for money?
Do I need a proposal? What should it look like?
What do I do after the gift has been given? How do I follow-up?
Let's take a brief dive into each of these areas.
THE ART OF THE ASK
If you're planning on asking someone for a financial gift, you should have already confirmed during the Evaluation step that they have an inclination to give to your ministry. The primary purpose of any meeting that includes an appeal is to show the partner how their vision for giving aligns with your vision for ministry. You can think of it like a Venn diagram:
YOUR VISION FOR MINISTRY
THEIR VISION FOR GIVING
CONTENT OF YOUR APPEAL
Using the diagram above as a reference, there is no point in asking for anything outside of the center section. As a ministry team, you should have already defined your needs and vision for ministry and you should have learned at least a few inclinations of things that the partner is passionate about. Maybe your are a campus team and the partner has a passion for reaching international students. You should be asking the partner for something that intersects those two things; maybe they give a scholarship fund for international students to attend your conferences.
On the flip side of that scenario, it would make no sense to know that your partner is passionate about international students and then ask them to give $10,000 to start a high school ministry in your area. They may give (because they see the importance of what you're doing) but they won't give as much or as passionately as they would for something more aligned to their vision. If they are a capable of a very large gift, they might outright reject your offer because they have many other opportunities to give.
No matter what you are asking for, there will be 5 basic sections of any financial appeal:
You can see an in-depth overview of those 5 areas by watching videos from our Development Institute. Dan Willmann (the former VP of Global Development for Campus Crusade for Christ) has a three-part series on Making Effective Presentations. We will link the first part on this page, but know that you can go to the Development Institute to find all other sections of Dan's talk along with many other resources.
CREATING A PROPOSAL
It's common for ministry leaders to think that they don't need a proposal. They tell themselves, "The partner and I are friends at this point - it's better for the meeting to stay casual." Or perhaps the idea of creating a proposal seems like too much work or too old school (who still uses paper, anyway, right?)
Despite these thoughts, it is crucial that any appeal includes some form of a written proposal. Most high-capacity partners expect to see something in writing - it's still how business is done at the higher level many of them operate within. Having a written proposal:
Demonstrates a well-thought out plan that addresses a need
Aligns and guides the partner
Ensures clear, focused communication
Eliminates confusion and incorrect conclusions
Provides the partner with content to review, consider, and pray through after your meeting
Ultimately, a well-written proposal will show your partner that you are serious about the opportunity you're presenting. It proves that you have put a lot of time and effort into your plan for ministry and how the partner can play a part. If you come with nothing prepared or only a Word document printed out, it gives off the impression that you are flying by the seat of your pants, without much forethought or a plan for implementation. In contrast, handing over a well-designed, thorough proposal leaves no room for question about how a gift will be used or whether it will make an impact.
Watch the following video from Larry O'Nan about proposals. He covers why we need them, why we resist them, and what must be true of them. Part 2 of Larry's talk can be found in our Development Institute.
RESOURCES TO HELP WITH PROPOSALS
Blog Post: Elements of a Printed Proposal
Sample Proposal: NYC
REPORTING & FOLLOW-UP
The most commonly forgotten step of the Major Partner Cycle is the last one: Stewardship. This is what happens after the gift is given. Very few teams purposefully neglect partners after they've given a major gift, but many end up doing just that. After all, it's hard enough to prioritize Major Partner Work amid all that your team is doing!
It's unfortunate that this happens so often, though, because many teams and ministries end up hamstrung by their inability to capture momentum through proper reporting. Don't forget: your major partners aren't stupid - they can tell if you're only interested in the money. A great indicator for them is whether or not you report on their gift and continue to get them more involved in the ministry before you ask for the next gift.
Most major partners are being asked regularly (sometimes daily) to invest financially in various ways. Reporting on a gift and handling the follow-up process with tact is an important way to stand out above the pack.
Watch Larry O'Nan's video on Effective Reporting to learn the ins and outs of reporting to partners. We've also taken a couple parts of Larry's video and reposted them on the TeamGold blog for your convenience:
21 Things Partners Want You to Know About Reporting
15 Foundational Principles of Effective Reporting
Working with Major Partners isn't something you can just walk into blindly - it needs a lot of forethought and deliberation if you want any hope of finding long-term success. That said, this dimension of your Development strategy has the potential to drastically increase your budget and your team's ability to fulfill your mission and vision. For many teams, actually, we'd say you will never be able to fully reach your scope and achieve your team's vision without a network of major partners.
Do you still have questions or need help with somethings? Check out the TeamGold Forum, where you can ask any question that you have and get a free consult from one of the Development professionals within the TeamGold network.