Guiding Principles for a Major Gifts Campaign

If your nonprofit wants to initiate a Major Gifts Campaign, then your board and staff should consider the following guiding principles before planning the next steps

These guiding principles for a Major Gifts Campaign are absolutely critical for success.   

Board and staff should have a clear understanding and agreement to follow these principles throughout the life of the campaign.

What is a Major Gifts Campaign?

An organized effort that takes extraordinary planning, time, resources, and patience to secure “major gifts” from “major donors” to accomplish a large fundraising goal.

A Major Gifts Campaign could be a capital, endowment or annual fund campaign 
OR ALL THREE (combined in a comprehensive fundraising plan)!!

What is a Major Gift?

A major gift is any gift so large that its size:
*  Is of a different magnitude from the organization's usual range of gifts
* Has the potential to have a significant impact on the organization.

Who is a Major Donor?

An individual, foundation or corporation who is keenly interested in the mission of your organization and willing to make an investment of a major gift in your organization.

What is the board's responsibility in a Major Gifts Campaign?

As a critical governance responsibility, the board MUST ensure that the organization has a realistic strategy for raising funds.  For a major gifts campaign, the board must actively participate by:
* Endorsing the campaign plan including the case and goal, strategies, responsibilities of staff & volunteers, and timelines
* Making a personal major gift
* Recruiting Campaign Committee
* Cultivating & Soliciting Major Donors

What is the Staff's Role in a Major Gifts Campaign?

Executive Director’s Role
*  Primary Fundraiser
* Must set aside 50% of time for campaign

Development Staff’s Role
*  Primary “Puppet-Master” (Coordinator/Manager)
*  Must set aside 90% of time for campaign

Program Staff’s Role
*  Primary Cheerleaders
*  Must know the Case and Where to Direct Potential Donors 

Overview: Fundraising Planning & Execution

No matter what type of fundraising project --capital campaign, annual fund, or even for a special event -- there are common planning and execution/implementation steps that apply.  It is very important to emphasize that these steps are not necessarily sequential and often must occur simultaneously.

I will expand on these components for fundraising success over the course of posts this month.

For those who think they are past this planning phase, here are the Components of Good Campaign Execution:

If you have questions about any of these components before I post a detailed explanation, please comment and I will address it ASAP!

Assessing Past Fundraising Success

Whether you organization is about to launch a capital campaign or an annual fund campaign with a bigger emphasis on "Major Gifts" (which may be $500 or $5,000+ depending upon the size of your organization and your current level of donor giving), you should first assess your past fundraising success so that your plan is based in reality and not theory.

Prior to launching a Major Gifts Campaign, here are a few questions that you should review with your Executive Director, Board and Development staff:

What type of fundraising has your organization been successful with?  
  –Annual Giving (direct mail, telemarketing, & events) 
  –Major Giving (grant writing & face-to-face solicitations) 
  –Planned Giving

Are your internal Development plans, policies and procedures set up?   
   –Annual and Long-term Fundraising Plan approved by Board   
   –Constituent Database(s)-donor & volunteer tracking   
   –Prospect Research   
   –Gift Acceptance Policies   
   –Donor Recognition   –Progress Reporting
   –Fundraising Material Preparation

Has anything occurred to increase/decrease donor loyalty?

Has there been a “personality” that your organization owes its success to?

How active has your board and other volunteers been in fundraising?

Cost To Raise a Dollar (CTRD)

It's really an interesting discussion for a board and staff leadership to think about the different fundraising activities and how much time and effort they should spend on each activity!   An easy way to assess your effectiveness is to look at the Cost to Raise a Dollar (CTRD) for each of the fundraising programs or campaigns your nonprofit engages in.

I wish I had a dime for every time someone would ask me what the CTRD that is "acceptable".    Well, there are national averages, but your nonprofit must decide what they think is "acceptable" to the supporters.

I have had a slide in one of my training sessions for years with the following:

James Greenfield provided the following answer in his book, Fund-Raising: Evaluating and Managing the Fund Development Process (1999). The overall national average cost to raise a dollar (CTRD) is 20 cents (or 80 cents of every dollar raised goes to the charitable purpose/programs):

# Fundraising Activity/Method National Cost to Raise a Dollar

1. Capital Campaign/Major Gifts $ .05 to $ .10 per dollar raised.
2. Corporations and Foundations (Grant Writing) $ .20 per dollar raised.
3. Direct Mail Renewal $ .20 per dollar raised.
4. Planned Giving $ .25 per dollar raise¾and a lot of patience!
5. Benefit/Special Events $ .50 of gross proceeds.
6. Direct Mail Acquisition $ 1.00 to $ 1.25 per dollar raised.
7. National Average $ .20

I have cross-referenced it with many other sources.  However, look at THE DATE on this...I wonder if social media, email and general increased web presence of nonprofits has changed these averages.

Can anyone update this information for us??

Board Fundraising Commitment Form

Many nonprofit managers worry about how to best engage and encourage their boards to participate in fundraising.  One of the most essential criteria when recruiting volunteer board members is to make it clear what is expected when they agree to serve on your governing board.

An easy first step is to ask ALL board member, new and old, to sign an annual commitment form.

I've used versions of this form below for many years.  I found this thanks to Tony Poderis, who has been one of the pioneers of fundraising and nonprofit advice online!!  See his site at:

SAMPLE Board Members Pledge to Support Fundraising Efforts
As a board member of ______________________, I pledge to support and take part in all of the organization's fund-raising efforts.
    • I will actively solicit gifts for every fund-raising campaign we undertake.
    • I will carry the message of the organization's value and importance to those with whom I work and socialize.
    • Recognizing that leaders must lead by example, I will make a gift to every fund-raising campaign the organization undertakes consistent with my ability to give and reflective of my commitment to the organization.
                                            Signed: ________________________, Trustee

© Copyright 1997 - 2004, Tony Poderis All rights in all media reserved.

First Post: Planning this Blog

Today I begin to brainstorm and plan my ideas for a blog that will share lessons in nonprofit management that I have learned over the past 20+ years.  I hope this might be helpful to others in the nonprofit world.  

See my LinkedIn profile to see more about why I am qualified to blog on these topics:

Follow me on Twitter to see items I often TWEET and RT on nonprofit topics: @TennESheeLa  I'm based in Memphis, TN so many of my Tweets refer to the Midsouth.

Please make comments here with suggestions for topics you would like to see me discuss (i.e. Financial Planning, Board Involvement, Strategic Planning, Prospect Research, Major Gifts Fundraising Grantwriting, Events, Internal Communications, Marketing, etc.).