Major Gift Fundraising – A Three-Legged Stool

Sections of this topic

    To stand, to be effective over the long term, a major gifts program needs all three legs: Leaders, Prospects and Involvement of both in the life of your organization.

    Leadership includes the organization’s CEO, Trustees and (often) key volunteers. It’s their role to define the funding need, take their case to the public, and identify, cultivate and evaluate those most likely to make a major gift. It is, of course, also the job of the leadership to set the example and ask others to follow that example.

    The most likely Major Gift Prospects are those individuals with the means to make a gift of the appropriate size, who know your organization, believe in its mission and that it is being run effectively, are accessible to your leadership, and have been substantively involved with your organization.

    An effective major gifts program requires the active participation of your leadership in getting your prospects actively involved in the life of your organization. Please note, active involvement of prospects does not necessarily refer to attendance at special events.

    In the identification and initial evaluation process, involvement by leadership is absolutely essential. It is they who must have access to the wealthy, before the wealthy can be considered prospects. Your leaders must know your prospects and their interests well enough to identify the best means for involving them with your organization.

    Involvement is an ongoing process that ranges from asking the prospect for advice, in one-or-more areas, to having that person serve on specific committees — for an event, to help identify/evaluate prospects, to add expertise on a project, etc..

    Involvement can also mean working with you to help provide the service that is the mission of your organization. It can also be speaking for you, to community groups, corporations, the press, etc.

    There is no time limit for involvement, it depends on the prospect. By definition, you ask for the major gift at the point where the prospect is likely to respond, “Of course. What took you so long to ask?” That’s why, since it’s not always easy to identify that point, the people doing the cultivating/involving must know the prospect well enough to make that determination.

    To complete the “three-legged stool” analogy, you must also have someone to hold the legs together, and make all concerned do what’s needed, when needed. That’s your Director of Development … the person who directs your development program.
    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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