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The Principles of Major Gifts

Trends come and go. But sound major gift principles are timeless and invaluable to our success in fundraising.

Yes, we read “trends in major gifts fundraising” when advancement firms, along with information from businesses and research programs, provide us this valuable information. We look for insights into what we might do better, what might we be missing and what can we improve.

Over the years, there are “trends” that continue and probably should be referred as “principles” of major gifts. Here are a few:

  1. Fact: Philanthropic support generally comes from 10% of our donors who contribute about 90% of dollars raised by our institutions and organizations. Over a decade ago, the 80-20 rule changed and the gap in donors who are contributing at this level are fewer, while their giving is increasing.

    What is your percentage of funds and percentage of donors? What are you learning from these individuals? What strategies are you undertaking to move the next 5% of you major/principle prospects to significant levels of giving? How are you cultivating those with wealth and propensity for giving into your organization?
  2. Fact: Donors give to institutions they know. Over and over. They want to know our organizations and the people who lead them.

    Donors want to know how we are making a difference, given our mission, with their philanthropic support and that of others at similar levels. Are we clearly demonstrating impact? Are we continuing to engage them? How so?
  3. Fact: Donors are interested in our reputation and credibility as a leading institution or organization.

    Who else is giving to us? What other support are we receiving? From leading foundations? Government? Community support? Can we demonstrate our credibility via a swath of stakeholders?

  4. Fact: Relationship. Relationship. Relationship. Yes, this continues to the single most significant part in giving for major and principle donors.

    Beyond our president or dean, how are we establishing and promoting other key stakeholders at our institutions? Yes, presidents come and go, so who are those that remain? Who are those who provide sustainable relationships with our donors? Since major and principle donors will continue to give and give to an organization, how are we establishing and managing the relationships on our campuses, on our boards with these key individuals?

Here are a few “must do” to be successful in raising such philanthropic support:

  1. First and foremost, our own Board of Trustees must be educated about this level of giving---what it takes, how it can be successful and what is their role? When we identify, cultivate and recruit trustees, are we having this conversation at that time so that they are keenly aware of their role and our expectations of them before they become members of the governing board?

  2. As a result of an educated and successful board in major and principle fundraising, members are more keenly aware of the role of the president in raising philanthropic support. Thus, where does this fit in their hiring and evaluating of the leader?

  3. Engaging other key stakeholders in major and principle fundraising is critical and includes deans, directors of centers, and other key academic leaders. Are we educating them? Are we partnering with them in our relationships with these key supporters? How are we engaging them with our donors in a significant way?

Wealth in America is at an all-time high and will, more than likely, continue to grow and expand. So, what is our strategy in garnering the support from these individuals? Did we begin educating our students to a culture of giving when they were undergraduates? Recent graduates? How is our alumni program engaging them? How are we using our data? And how are we continuing to build and deepen relationships at earlier stages of our pipeline?

Do continue to keep abreast of trends, but more importantly, be certain to incorporate sound major gift principles in your work.

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