What constitutes a major gift at your organization? As you read that question, chances are you immediately thought of a specific number.
Yet there is a different way to think about what constitutes a “major gift.”
The high points of your career as a fundraiser are those moments when you connect your organization’s mission to a donor’s life-story in a way that provides joy and meaning for all involved. These gifts are true win–win–wins for the donor, the institution, and the recipients of the organization’s work. These are true major gifts. These are the stories you tell people when they ask you what you do for a living.
This meaning is, in many ways, superior to defining a major gift as a number alone. From the donor’s perspective, a $10,000 gift might be an “ought to” gift—or even a “go-away gift”—for a millionaire who routinely writes checks for good causes. For others, $10,000 will be the biggest philanthropic gesture of their entire lives. In this sense, a “major gift” exists only in the second example.
A development professional we interviewed shared a story about receiving a $10,000 contribution from an elderly donor. “When I got the check, I was very grateful and pleased, but I have to say that, as a development professional, I was a little disappointed because, for me, that amount is not a major gift.” Shrugging off that feeling of disappointment, the development professional stewarded the contribution appropriately and worked diligently to deepen engagement with the donor which ultimately resulted in a million dollar contribution.
One of the donor’s children later told the development professional the backstory of the initial contribution. As a child of the Depression, the donor had always been extremely frugal. Writing that check was a significant act for the donor. The development professional says, “Her son told me, ‘Writing that check was a major, major gift. You can imagine the joy she felt when she was able to give you a million dollars.’” Most people—including the development professional—would incorrectly conclude that only the second gift was a “major” gift when, in fact, they both were.
The reality is that development professionals must balance the science of metrics with the art of facilitating passion-based giving.
Striking a delicate balance between constantly remembering the joy and meaning involved with a true “major gift” and using metrics as the business-critical tools they are to refine strategy and measure progress ultimately improves your fundraising efficiency and skills.