This is a seemingly innocent question that elicits responses all over the charts. Nearly every nonprofit uses the term ‘major gift’ and has a quick definition of its meaning, but no two definitions are the same.
All too often, the term "major gifts fundraising" is misused, misrepresented, and misunderstood. Nearly every nonprofit professes to do some version of major gifts fundraising, and all consulting firms claim to be major gift experts. However, I believe that few nonprofit organizations have a true major gifts program and even fewer consulting firms grasp the philosophy behind a quality relationship-based funding strategy. In fact, major gifts fundraising often becomes a game of confusing oranges for apples.
As a career consultant who has worked with countless nonprofits, I spend most of my time focusing on the top of each client’s donor portfolio – the largest gifts. Helping a development staff, Board and executive leadership establish a sound, relationship-based principal gifts strategy provides the greatest short-term gain, as well as long-term revenue retention. But where does long-term growth come from? The answer or "secret sauce" to a thriving and growing development operation is a strategic mid-level donor strategy.
The very term "major gifts" is intimidating to many. What does it mean? Who are these so-called major donors? These are the questions asked every day by organizations that haven't yet ventured into a relational model of fundraising.
For Mission Advancement, it’s nearly all nonprofit organizations ... pretty easy answer, right? Think about your mission and vision statements: who the target of your mission is, who the staff and volunteers focus their efforts on. You come up with answers like the students who sit in the classrooms, or the person who is hungry or in need of what it is your mission provides. Well, in one sense you’re right. But in the fundraising sense, you are wrong!
Most of us in the field of development are familiar with the term "donor fatigue." While specific definitions will vary, most of us would agree that donor fatigue occurs when we go to the same well too many times for financial support. We have this image of donors responding to our request for support by saying, "Really? Again? Am I the only one who gives to this mission?"
We have all daydreamed of an angel-donor who appears out of nowhere and drops in our laps a massive amount of money for our mission. Think of the immediate financial problems it would solve: It would completely take away the stress associated with managing monthly cash flow. It could also make those grandiose dreams of expansion an immediate reality. But is there a downside? In short, yes – if not managed properly, a mega-gift can often create more harm than good, and can sometimes lead to the demise of a nonprofit organization.
Whose job is it within your organization to raise money? Most who answer this question give the name of the Development Director - and they would be wrong. The right answer is every staff member, every board member, and every volunteer. Creating the right mindset among the entire team will lead to new opportunities for growth in your mission.
There are a lot of resources on the topic of stewardship and accountability in the development office, and most of them are helpful for development professionals as they strive to be responsible. However, the problem with most of the material on this topic is that it only applies to relationships with donors. As development professionals, you are also faced with other relationships that demand your stewardship and accountability – and those relationships are your greatest responsibility.