The last 13 weeks have been devoted to a series on capital campaign development, but whether you tuned in to that conversation or not, you are likely to have been exposed to the concept of major gift development. I will soon begin a series on the development of an annual campaign plan, but before I do, I will cover major gifts – mostly because donor centered fundraising will be the foundation for any good campaign plan.

First – let’s define terms.  What is a major gift?

The answer is that there is no set dollar amount that defines major giving for all organizations. The dollar level for major giving is highly dependent on several factors, including the size of the nonprofit, the average giving level, the size of the campaign, and the potential to upgrade gifts with a major giving program.

A few rules of thumb:

  • A major gift to your organization is generally set at a level that is equal to or greater than gifts made by the top 5% – 20% of your donor base. In other words, if you are an organization with 1000 donors, take a look at your top 100 – 200 gifts (or top 10 – 20%). It helps to print this list in dollar descending order. Where do the majority of these gifts seem to fall? Is there an obvious range that is ripe for an upgrade? For example, if the majority of these gifts fall at the $500, $750 and $850 levels, it may make sense for your major giving program (and associated benefits) to begin at $1000, thus offering an attractive opportunity for an increase. This analysis is also helpful in determining levels within a major gift program. But more on that in the coming weeks!
  • A major gift may also be defined via the means by which it is solicited. At the independent school at which I worked for 5 years, we solicited donors or prospects at the $1,800+ level via either face to face meetings or personal phone calls. Our major gift program (about 150 donors) was defined by the fact that we were able to assign individual solicitors to each donor / prospect and ask for the gift in a way that was personal rather than transactional. Our major donors did not receive direct mail appeals –only 1:1 asks. They were assigned relationship managers (either board or staff members) who may or may not have been the solicitor.
  • Organizations tend to establish different major giving thresholds for each campaign line (annual, capital and/or endowment). This is because a major gift to the capital campaign may look very different than a major gift to the annual campaign. So each campaign line should have its own designated major giving program.

Second – what does a major donor look like?

Again, the major donor profile tends to change depending on the organization, campaign, and even the role the board plays in fundraising. But there are a few common traits or characteristics. Major donors tend to:

  • Care deeply about your cause or mission. Donors may make a first time, modest, or even quite generous, gift because of an honoree or relationship with someone in your organization, but they don’t tend to keep giving at this level unless they care about the work you do.
  • Have the capacity to give at your organization’s major giving level, hopefully on an annual basis.
  • Respond to a relationship with one or two individuals within a nonprofit, and therefore the rating, assignment, and relationship management program for each major donor should be highly customized, consistent and personal.

Next week we will continue this conversation with a discussion about identifying and qualifying major donors – so please join us and we look forward to your comments and questions! In the meantime, enjoy this week’s freebie and please, contact us with any questions about your campaign.