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What makes a gift "major"?

publication date: Nov 7, 2011
author/source: Leanne Hitchcock
Hilborn eNEWS is pleased to share with our readers an excerpt from a new resource for Canadian fundraisers, Excellence in Fundraising in Canada. Edited by Guy Mallabone, CFRE, an outstanding leader in the fundraising field, it represents more than 400 years of fundraising experience!  The 22 authors who contributed chapters to the book are industry leaders from across the country.

The book covers a wide range of topics. This excerpt is from Guy Mallabone's chapter on major gifts.Guy Mallabone photo

Defining major gifts

Defining major gifts by only their size is inconclusive. While there is no minimum or maximum gift size that qualifies a gift to be termed "major," the common characteristics are that all major gifts are solicited face-to-face or over the phone, and the amounts given tend to reflect that personal approach.

In Europe and Australasia, major gift fundraising is referred to as "major donor fundraising" - an  interesting choice of emphasis on the word "donor" instead of the word "gift" used in Canada. Some might argue that the Canadian (and US) emphasis reinforces our attention to the priority of landing the gift over landing the relationship. Others scoff at this interpretation and point out that gifts only come from major relationships and the wording is semantics only. However you interpret the language, know that you will be referring to major "donor" fundraising when traveling in other parts of the world ... a subtle but important distinction.

Consider these five key factors when examining a definition of major gifts:

Major gifts are relative

What is major to one organization may not be major to another. For some organizations a major gift might be defined at $1,000; for other nonprofits, a major gift might start at $100,000 or more. Find the definition that fits your organization's stage in its fundraising evolution. Don't feel you need to add zeros after your definition just because the organization down the street does so.

Major gifts should be substantial

By substantial we mean those gifts that are extraordinary for both the donor and the organization.  Because a typical gift can vary greatly from organization to organization, we need to look at defining "substantial" not on specific dollar size alone, but on its proportion to an average annual gift received by the same organization. For minimum definition purposes, the size of your major gift should be 100 times the size of your organization's usual annual gift. For example, at the Southern Alberta Institute of Technology, the average annual gift was approximately $80. Their definition of a major gift was $10,000.

Major gifts should be transformative

They should create opportunities - endowing scholarships; permanently funding a research project; constructing a building - that have a permanent impact on the charity's future.  Both concepts: relative substantial size and transforming nature are important to understand the definition of major gift.

Major gifts warrant one-on-one attention

Major gifts result from donor relationships. And donor relationships don't just happen by accident or overnight. They require time and attention to nurture and cultivate. A major gift definition should reflect the need to provide one-on-one attention for cultivation and eventual solicitation.

Major gifts depend on the maturity of the organization's development history

Major gift fundraising is very dependent upon prospective leads being identified and nurtured for solicitation. Many of these leads come from a strong annual fund that has
  • been operating and which has built up a substantial donor base;
  • upgraded donors by moving them up from gift level to gift level; and
  • led to recruiting and training staff and volunteers in effective major gift cultivation and solicitation.
What is your organization's major gift definition?

Excellence in Fundraising in Canada will be published in late November. The list of contributing authors includes  Ken Wyman, Pearl Veenema, Peter McKinley, Nick Jaffer, Steven Thomas, Hala Bissada, Harvey McKinnon, Guy Mallabone, Tony Myers, Nicholas Offord, Richard Walker, Val Hoey, Mike Johnston, Leslie Weir, Boyd McBride, Luce Moreau, Andrea McManus, Tania Brandstrom, Dianne Lister, Pat Hardy, John Bouza and Sharilyn Hale.

A special pre-publication discount is now available for those who wish to pre-order their copy of the book. Regularly priced at $90, preorder your copy today for just $75 + tax and shipping. To purchase your copy for just $75, click here:

To enquire about discounts on bulk orders, contact the Publisher.

Note - the book is now in production. You'll receive your copy the moment it's available this December.

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