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Major Gifts: Trends and Challenges

This article was first published July 8, 2014. The Woolbright Group invited Lisa Maizite to share her thoughts with our readers on the subject of forecasting major trends in securing major gifts over the next five to ten years.

"More than ever, the decision to make a philanthropic gift is not just made by an individual, or even a couple, but in many cases, the entire family is involved including children. Parents use these opportunities to teach their children about the importance and joy of giving back to organizations that they care about. It is therefore critical that we engage all members of the family in the cultivation and stewardship of these gifts, in the hopes of securing a gift from other family members down the road.

Partnering with the planned giving professionals in your office, while closing a major gift, has never been more important. Even the most sophisticated of donors may not be aware of the vehicles that they can use to get income or transfer wealth, while still making a philanthropic gift. Partnering with planned giving means larger gifts and more often than not, these planned gifts are directed to the organization’s endowment, that help to build a stronger, sustainable foundation for the organization’s future.

Women donors are becoming an increasingly powerful force in the philanthropic world. Understanding what they are passionate about and how they want to be engaged is crucial to securing major gifts. Working with your current women donors to develop programs at your organizations that cultivate women donors would be an important part of your overall outreach strategy."

We then queried Lisa as to whether she has noticed any changes in perspectives or considerations with donors regarding major gifts.

"In these challenging economic times, donors are increasingly interested in paying off their gifts over a longer period of time—typically 3-5 years.

They are also expecting a higher level of stewardship and are often having that documented in the gift agreements, asking for detailed updates on how their gift is being used and how it is making an impact on the organization. Whether the impact is conveyed through letters from their scholarship students, a meeting with the faculty member they are supporting or a summary of the performance of their endowed fund—donors are looking to be involved in their philanthropy and are hoping that their investment of both resources and potentially time is paying off."

Lisa described some of the biggest challenges that she and her colleagues grapple with.

"The recruitment and retention of talented major gift staff continues to be a challenge that many of us face. Major gift staff are in the business of building and maintaining relationships which is often hard to do when the average tenure of a major gift officer still tends to be quite short. People give to people, and with those they trust and have built a rapport.

Future campaigns will be dependent on the new prospects that are qualified and cultivated during the current campaign. Major gift officers need to balance their time to make sure that they are not only closing gifts, but finding the next generation of philanthropists. We need to think more broadly about who makes up that next group of prospects. Have we reached out to local residents of prominence, community leaders and local businesses? Have we asked our current donors for their help and guidance in identifying these individuals?"

We concluded the conversation by asking what role the board of trustees plays in raising philanthropic support, and whether trustee availability and/or commitment to assisting with securing major gifts has changed in any way.

"The Board of Trustees plays a critical role in the raising of philanthropic support. Trustees, partnering with the President or senior Advancement staff, are used on a case by case basis, to secure major gifts. Trustees who have made a major gift themselves and are open to talking about what inspires their giving and how they structured their gift, are often the best solicitors. Recognizing that a volunteer’s time is very precious, it is important to use them strategically where they will have the most impact."

Lisa Maizite, Assistant Vice President for Development, Worcester Polytechnic Institute (WPI), Worcester, MA

Lisa’s career spans over 20 years and in her current role she oversees several major gift staff, Donor Relations and Stewardship as well as managing a portfolio of major and principal gift prospects. During her 18 year tenure at WPI, Lisa has also served as the Director of Annual Giving, Director of Capital and Endowed Gifts and Executive Director of Major Gifts. Prior to WPI, Lisa worked in the Annual Fund at Clark University. A graduate of the Bronx High School of Science and The University of Vermont, Lisa has been an active volunteer for CASE for a number of years, serving on the CASE District I Board for 11 years, including as Board Chair from 2008-2010. She is a recipient of the Carol and Steve Hebert award for service to CASE District I. Lisa and her husband, G. Richard Donahue, live in Worcester, MA along with their son Ryan.

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