A Major Gifts Campaign Must Be A Large-Giver Campaign

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    On first reaction, you might think that title would evoke a “Ya think?” response.

    Not so fast. Too often, those seeking “major gifts” for those major campaigns, settle for what are really small gifts, not at all in keeping with the size and scope of the donations needed to meet those larger goals.

    While an annual campaign is a broad-based effort relying on smaller gifts from a great number of donors to achieve its goal, a major gifts campaign expects to reach its goal with a much smaller number of donors making very large gifts – see “What is a Major Gift.”

    All too often, organizations that have decided on a major gifts campaign incorrectly begin with the idea of making it a broad-based appeal. You can’t raise a million dollars with gifts of $100 or (even) $1,000. You would need 10,000 of the former or 1,000 of the latter.

    Rather, you need to begin by targeting prospects who can give at least $50,000—and remember, a number of those prospects may give only $20,000, or $10,000, instead of the $50,000 you anticipated.

    Also to be considered is fundraising’s daunting “rule-of-thumb” for prospect-to-donor ratio. You usually need to identify at least four viable prospects for each contribution you desire at the required contribution level.

    Ask Small And You Get Small
    At the Cleveland Orchestra, I once disagreed with the volunteer leadership of a $15 million endowment campaign about the size of gifts we should be seeking. The idea was put forth that we raise $5 million by enticing people to endow each of the 2,000 seats in our concert hall. That worked out to $2,500 per donor.

    I strenuously objected to this, literally risking my job.

    My reasoning was simple: We would not succeed in finding 2,000 donors at $2,500 each. Experience had shown me that the base of donors able and willing to give that much wasn’t large enough. I also feared that the campaign committee and solicitors would get used to the idea of asking small, and the campaign would lose its steam.

    My argument held, and the volunteer leadership agreed not to put so much of the campaign effort into an idea that past experience showed could not succeed without damaging other areas of the drive.

    In our effort to find 2,000 donors willing and able to make gifts of $2,500 we would have included donors we knew to be capable of making far larger gifts. They would be donors we would need to solicit for the larger-gift divisions of the campaign.

    It is never a good idea to ask for two separate gifts for the same campaign. Donors will often make the decision to give either one or the other, and the option they pick can well be the lower.

    Have a question or comment about the above posting?
    You can Ask Tony.
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