Gift Clubs: What They Are … And Aren’t

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    It has become common for nonprofit organizations to publish listings of donors arranged by the sizes/ranges of their gifts. In the vast majority of cases, those gift range categories are often known, erroneously, as “gift clubs.”

    This is a very popular, simple process. It is popular because it is easy to implement and doesn’t take much thinking. Many organizations use this mechanism because they look around and see the lists that other groups publish, and think they must/should.

    To a significant segment of the donor population, however, the particular category in which they become listed is of little consequence, and was not what had motivated the gift. Motivations for giving can be as varied and diverse as the backgrounds, personalities, experiences, and lifestyles of your donors.

    Gift Clubs, as they were originally “designed,” don’t have names-on-a-list as the be-all-and-end-all of the development process. Gift Clubs serve to identify, cultivate, and satisfy much of what motivates donors. They embody a process that engenders major gifts, as well as provides donor recognition. (See: What Is A Major Gift?)

    To be successful, a gift club must be highly visible to your target audience, and membership must be marketed as being highly desirable … and not just because you say so !! (When it comes to major gift fundraising, marketing is a one-on-one proposition.)

    Membership-by-invitation is the major factor that distinguishes gift clubs from “recognition lists.”

    First, and most importantly, each of these clubs must have a chair or president, a person whose reputation, social/political position, and/or clout commands the respect of his/her peers and evokes some level of desire in prospective donors to want to become a member of that club.

    The basic level for an invitation-to-become-a-member can vary as the type of organization and circumstances vary; and, you can have more than one “Club” with the same minimum dollar requirement — with different leaders and different (mission-related) activities.

    Name your clubs for an “activity,” name them after organizational founders, name them after people you want to honor, and give them names that would help you market the desirability of becoming a member, but don’t call them gift clubs.

    Have a comment or a question about starting, evaluating, or expanding your fundraising program? With over 30 years of counseling in major gifts, capital campaigns, bequest programs, and the planning studies to precede these three, I’ll be pleased to answer your questions. Contact me at
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