Moving Toward (More) Major Gifts

Pareto’s Principle—that 20 percent of something are always responsible for 80 percent of the results—is as true for fundraising as anything else.  Maybe more so, as many organizations find that 10% of their donors make up 90% of their fundraising revenue.  So why not just focus your fundraising efforts on these few?

The reality, of course, is that in order to find those few, you must first be cultivating the many.   The thing is, you don’t want to spend all your time on the vast majority of your donors who make up but a small sliver of your cash gifts.

And this is where things get problematical for many small organizations.

Larger gifts typically don’t come through the mail—though the sometimes do.  They don’t come over the internet, generally speaking.  Nor do they come via events, or because you sent out a newsletter with a reply envelop inside.  They happen via personal solicitations, often taking many visits, frequent phone calls, and more time than the typical one-person development office organization can afford.

Unless, of course, you have an amazing Board.

Board members can, and do, take up much of the slack for major giving, but it is unrealistic to expect them to do it alone.  They need professional support to facilitate, coordinate, and especially manage these major donors.

And, except in very rare instances, amazing Boards do not just show up.  They take time to recruit, to cultivate, to train.

So a wise development director, faced with limited resources and high needs, should be focusing 80 percent of his or her time to those 20 percenters with the deep pockets.  That leaves only 20 percent for the remaining majority.  That means being as efficient as possible.

Efficiency would mean that you reach out and touch as many people as possible in the least time consuming way.  Scratch gala events, unless the development director knows how to delegate and give up control of the small stuff.  And the color of the table cloths, the menu, and even the sacred centerpiece are—believe—really small.  When I had to do events as part of my portfolio (without budget for an event coordinator), I relied heavily on the catering staff of my venue.

“Here’s my budget,” I would tell them.  “Make it marvelous.”  And you know—most often they did.  And because they didn’t have to deal with a demanding and time-eating client, they often gave me more for less.

Being efficient, of course, doesn’t mean that you are sloppy.  It does, however, mean that you should plan carefully, stick to your deadlines, but keep it as simple as possible.  And make sure that you have a robust stewardship plan that has you thanking your annual donors regularly and letting them know how their support has made a difference.

With an annual fundraising plan whose parts all work together like clockwork, you will have enough time to focus your energies on major gifts.

If all fundraising is about relationships, major gifts are about very close relationships.  They take time and they take planning.  They also require that you get up close and personal and that means face-to-face visits, thoughtful and individual messaging, and the right person or people to be the link between the prospective major donor and the organization.

Above all, major gift fundraising takes listening.  You need to hear what your prospect is telling you about his or her interest areas, their capacity to give and their inclination to give it to your organization.


Janet Levine is a consulting who works with nonprofit organizations to increase their fundraising capacity.  Learn about her services at




About janetlevineconsulting

For over 20 years, Janet Levine has worked for and with nonprofit and educational organizations, helping to grow their advancement programs. Her consulting company, Janet Levine Consulting, serves a wide range of organizations from small, all-volunteer agencies to major national organizations. She regularly teaches courses in non-profit management, fundraising and grant development, both face-to-face and online at In addition to her nonprofit work, Janet brings years of experience as a business and sales manager in the for-profit sector. She has an MBA from the Graziadio School of Business at Pepperdine University.
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