Major Gifts: Four Basics before You Begin

April 30, 2011

Today’s guest post is from Kirsten Bullock.


Are you ready for a major gifts campaign?

Often, I’ll get a call from a group that’s brand new saying: “We want to get started in major gifts!”

“That’s great” I respond. “Who are your current donors?”

“Well, we don’t have any of those.”

“OK” I go on. “What about your program? What kind of successes have you had?”

“Um, well. We’re brand new. We don’t have any of that either.”

While it’s great to want to get started in major gifts, there are some definite things to have in place BEFORE getting started that will make your job a lot easier. Here are four must-haves if you want to have a successful major gifts program:

Compelling Cause. Your cause is the backbone of your fundraising program. Notice, I did not say that your organization is at the core. Many donors could care less about the organization (although having a strong organization with a well-known board doesn’t hurt). What they care about is making a difference for people and having an impact.

Clear Results. That brings us to my next point. Clear results. Is your program making a difference in people’s lives? Are their results your can share? Better than statistics, are their clients who would be willing to share their story about how you impacted their lives? Just a short side-note, there’s an organization I’ve worked work locally that serves those with or impacted by HIV/AIDS. When I asked this question, they were convinced that their clients would not feel comfortable sharing their story because of the stigma attached. When I encouraged them to ask anyway, several clients came forward and agreed to serve on a panel at a public event. It was a really moving presentation. All that to say, don’t be afraid to ask. I think you’ll be surprised at the numbers of people who are excited to come forward and be an inspiration to others.

Committed Core. Major gifts is hard work. Don’t try to go it alone. It’s simple (if you know the steps), but it’s also hard. Your core team of 3-5 will be inspiring people, visiting with potential donors, and asking. They are making a commitment to a 2-4 year process of building your major gifs program and ideally will personally commit to a minimum of three years. While they don’t need to have experience asking for gifts (it wouldn’t hurt) it is important that they be open to inviting others to participate with them in your cause. In addition to a commitment of time, they also need to make a financial commitment. It’s hard to ask for a gift if you haven’t made one yourself. In addition, it would be great if the gifts from your core could make up about 20% of your campaign goal.

Captivated  Constituency. Do you have current donors? Volunteers? Is the community actively aware of and engaged in your work? For major gifts, you’ll need 2-4 interested prospects capable of making a major gift for each gift you receive. So if you’re planning on having a campaign with 100 gifts, you’ll need about 300 people who are already interested in your work and able to give a large gift. A ‘gift range chart’ is a tool that can help you determine what levels of gifts you need, how many gifts you’ll need at each level, and an estimate of how many prospects you’ll need.

So, are you ready?


Kirsten Bullock is a consultant, trainer and coach who works with leaders of non-profit organizations and ministries to bring professionalism, excellence and effectiveness to their board and fundraising efforts. She earned her designation as a Certified Fund Raising Executive in 2002. Kirsten is currently serving as president elect of the Association for Fundraising Professionals Greater Louisville Chapter. She is an AFP Master Trainer, compiles Kirsten’s Fundraising Headlines Blog, authors the Growing Your Donors blog and is a contributing blogger for SOFII (The Showcase of Fundraising Innovation and Inspiration). Kirsten holds a Bachelor’s Degree in Social Work and a Master’s of Business Administration. When not working to equip and empower people in the nonprofit sector, Kirsten sculpts, is attempting to learn to speak Danish and enjoys living in the Highlands in Louisville, Kentucky.

{ 3 comments… read them below or add one }

Gayle L. Gifford, ACFRE May 4, 2011 at 9:06 am

Kirsten,
So glad to hear you open this with a look at the cause and the outcomes.

Sherry Truhlar May 4, 2011 at 11:22 am

Great article, Kristen. Everybody loves a checklist but yours even has numbers. There’s nothing better than a measurement of where you are and where you want to go.

I also want to emphasize your advice to ask clients if they’d like to share their story. In the 50+ events I work annually, I am amazed at each individual story that is told. The power of an individual impacted is huge and orgs might underestimate one’s willingness to tell that story.

Christina Attard May 9, 2011 at 1:15 pm

I loved this post because it really simplifies the thinking/strategic process for non-profits who want to take their fundraising to the next level. What you are helping charities to do is create a win-win situation by putting the “puzzle pieces” in place to make success happen for everyone involved! No one likes a “mission impossible” with a fundraising goal and no groundwork or potential to achieve it!

Thank you!

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