How to construct a gift chart and use it to secure major gifts

publication date: Jul 26, 2011
author/source: Sumac Research
A gift chart is a tool used to determine how many gifts and prospects you will need to raise a specific amount of money. These charts are often used for capital campaigns, but can also be used for major gift fundraising and for major events. The table is built like a pyramid: the top has a small number of large gifts and the bottom has a large number of small gifts.

Here is a sample gift chart for a campaign to raise $3,000,000:

Gift Level

# of Gifts

# of Prospects






































Total Raised





Try out this Gift Range Calculator to construct your own by plugging in your campaign goal, just to get the idea. Then we'll talk about how to customize it for your situation.

Tips for building a gift chart

While the Gift Range Calculator is neat, it's not really something you can use in practice. Constructing a chart that is practical for your organization is going to take a little more work, since it will need to reflect the reality of your organization: what your donor base looks like and what they are capable of giving.

The Gift Range Calculator doesn't take this into account. It is constructed based on your goal alone and numbers are filled in based on set percentages. The top gift, for example, is always 25% of the campaign goal. In reality, however, you may have someone willing to give 50% of the campaign total. This will make your gift chart look quite different.

The moral of the story: Don't take the short-cut. Build the gift chart yourself using what you know about your donors. It's the only way to see if your goal is really attainable.

Your unique gift chart

Identify the highest level gift that will be made to the campaign. This number will depend entirely on your donor base. Do you have a few donors who could give at $50,000 or maybe one big one who can give at $100,000? It's not uncommon for the highest level to be anywhere from 10% to 50% of the campaign total.

Assume that you will need three to five prospective donors for each gift. Remember that not everyone will say yes, so you will need to line up a few.

Build your chart downwards, filling it in based on what you know about your donor base and their capacity to give.

If your gift chart total falls short of the target, it's likely your goal is not attainable, so you may want to rethink it. Likewise, if your chart adds up to more than your goal, you may want to increase it.

Allow for contingencies and unexpected expenses. Have you considered the need to travel or entertain? A local hamburger joint is usually not appropriate for a $500,000 donor. Do you need a donor appreciation event? What will it cost?  What if your project runs over its budget? These are all things that you should think about and budget in.

Revise the chart as you go, as prospects say yes or no to gifts. That will help you stay focused on what you need to raise your goal.

Using a gift chart to secure major gifts

A gift chart is not just handy for planning and keeping you on track of your goal. It can also help you secure major gifts. The next time you meet with a potential major donor bring the chart with you for a quick, graphic way to show the donor exactly where the campaign is and where he or she might fit in. That allows you to engage them in the campaign and get them to envision how they might be part of the solution.

Make sure to update the chart before you meet with any potential donor, so you can show them how much has been raised at each level and how much still needs to come in. If possible, give them the opportunity to pay over several years. Without a doubt, that flexibility will allow you to secure higher gift amounts.

Sumac is a complete, integrated software solution for nonprofits that tracks lapsed donors and distributes personalized electronic and paper communication easily and cost-effectively. For more information, visit

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