Friday, 12 October 2012

Let's go on a date: is Major Gifts for you?

Fifty Billion dollars by Zero One
In a couple of weeks I'm off to the Institute of Fundraising Scotland Conference to talk about "Starting a Major Gifts Programme from Scratch".    As you might imagine, I've been musing on what people coming to the conference will want to hear - and need to hear.

<< answers on a postcard to thefundraisingcollective @ >>

How do I start?  What level do I pitch it at?  If I were a consultant sitting down with a charity here's where I'd start:

Is Major Gifts really for you?

I love Major Gifts, really I do.  I love the partnerships which develop, the closeness between the organisation and the donor.  I love seeing donors' faces when they bear witness to the transformation their philanthropy has effected. I love the excitement that Major Gifts create.  I love how Major Gifts can instantly make an important project happen.


(you knew there would be a but right?)

Can you afford it? 

When I ask that question it isn't because I think Major Gifts work is expensive.  It's not.  In the world of fundraising budgets, we Major Gifts fundraisers are cheap dates.  We're the pasta and pesto of fundraising, and in terms of our beloved ROI, I reckon we're bettered only by trust fundraisers.

But unlike pasta and pesto, the creation of a successful Major Gifts programme takes time.  Relationships take time.  As one wise and experienced fundraiser said to me yesterday, "Major Gifts is like dating - you don't ask someone to marry you on the first date.  You get to know each other.  You meet the family.  You share interests.  You spend time together." 

This is old fashioned courtship, not speed dating.

Too often I'm seeing charities honing in on Major Gifts as a silver bullet, a panacea to rapidly bring in desperately needed funds in the face of funding cuts and financial instability.  It's not expensive to do.  It can bring in big chunks of cash.

But folks, you're forgetting one thing.

It takes time. 

A few months ago I was talking to a guy who was recruiting to a Major Gifts role.  Guess what the target was for year one of the Brand New Fundraising initiative?


That's right, you heard me.

Zero.  Nada.  Nowt. 

I felt like applauding.  That's realistic.  Sometimes, just sometimes, you're lucky.  Sometimes it's love at first sight.  You talk to the right person at the right time and WHAM you're in there.

But most of the time, you're courting.

So, Major Gifts isn't for the financially indigent.  It's for the people with a bit of ballast.  The people who can afford to take the time to get to know their potential donors, to build relationships, to talk, to dine, to laugh and to cry.   It's for people who've got a year or two to get it right.

And generally speaking, it's for the organisation with good forward planning and a project orientated approach.  Why?

Because like I've said before, Major Gifts is the Savile Row suit of the fundraising world.  It lends itself to tailor made approaches.  If you're giving a lot of money, you want to know exactly what it can do. 

If you're looking for a big wad of unrestricted cash in the next 6 months buy yourself a lottery ticket.  Major Gifts is not for you.  But if you're ready to commit to long term partnerships, to work collaboratively to shape areas of work, to listen and to discuss and most importantly, to take the time to do it right, I'll see you at the conference!

If you do have any question you want answered, discussed or blogged about feel free to leave a comment or send an email to thefundraising collective @  We'd love to hear from you. 




  1. A fundraising project can both be a marketing and gift-giving opportunity. A company can make promotional items and have the logo of the company being promoted as well as the advocacy printed on the items.

  2. Quite true. Most of the philanthropists, though would like to remain anonymous, would like to know where there money is going. This is the reason that sometimes, those who still possess some large amount of gold sovereigns, donate the pieces to a museum or have them displayed there for a charity event.

  3. I kind of see major gifts as investing money in stock exchange. It takes months and years to see if your money will grow or in some cases, not. But if you try to create and invest in a project finance modelling, you can see the reasons why your investments grow or not, because it's you who handles the situation, not the potential donors who will think if they will give or not.