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-- Bonnie W., St. Michael's Academy, Texas
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However, more often than not, I have found a $100 contribution is in fact a Major Gift to many organizations, and in other situations, a current $100 donor could very well be a strong candidate for a future, much larger, Major Gift.

Any gift currently making a significant and positive impact on your organization, or any gift with the potential to do so, is truly a Major Gift.

I suppose to be a "purist" in the strictest sense, any organization of any size should regard and respect every gift they receive as "major" to some degree, but the realities of limited time, effort and expense must dictate where your Major Gift focus will be.

Thinking about how we could address Major Gifts from those perspectives, I suggest, "Any gift currently making a significant and positive impact on our organization, or any gift with the potential to do so, is truly a Major Gift." Think of major donors as long-term, cumulative givers, not just for the short-term big gift. We want to build relationships to have them remain donors and become larger donors.

To define that just a bit further, we could say that a Major Gift is any gift so large that its size:

  • Is of a different magnitude from the organization's usual range of gifts and
  • Has the potential to have a significant impact on the organization.

"Major Gifts" are to be found in annual, endowment, capital, and sponsorship and underwriting campaigns. And you raise Major Gifts from individuals, corporations and foundations.

Major Donor & Prospect Profile

To prepare for asking for a Major Gift, you will need to know about your donors' interests, and capability to make a Major Gift. This is where the donor profile comes in. In it, you need to have the information about a donor which will help you make your request.

A donor file you can compile over time might have records of

  • stock ownership
  • real estate holdings
  • salary data
  • business and career histories
  • family tree information

Research your constituencies to determine if they are

  • directors of public corporations, which could be more likely to support you because of those connections. That information is readily available in libraries, corporate annual reports, etc.
  • individuals holding decision-making positions for private foundations as their attorneys, trust officers, etc.

Your database can be screened through the services of computer resource companies capable of providing, among other things, significant trading of stock by individuals. Some computer resource companies can merge your database to give you information which might identify individuals relative to the corporate executive positions they hold in companies of interest to you as potential contributors.

Look for any of your donors who are making gifts considerably larger to other non-profit organizations than they give to you and determine how you could be as well favored.

Find out everything you can about a major individual donor's interests, past philanthropic activities, and philosophy of life.

All of this is public information, gleaned from newspaper stories and other available means. In short, all things that a donor knows that other people know about them.

What NOT to put in your Records

What if a donor wants to see her or his giving record which we have on file in our organization?

Some questionable things are often verbally communicated within an organization about donors, and are all too often voiced in crude and disingenuous ways. Such opinions and expressions especially must never be put into print, such as to be seen in the following fictional example:

Mr. John Doe:
--- Reneged on a pledge of $5,000 in 1999.
--- Best to get to his wife first. She makes the decisions.
--- Is a vanity donor. Needs as much credit and visibility as we can give.

Even the best, and usually most caring, professional might let slip a less than complimentary remark about a donor on occasion, and while that is wrong, it can be a disaster when that "gossip" does find its way into the printed records and is ultimately seen by the donor. It does happen. It should not.

Tony Poderis writes about fund development based on his more than 30 years experience. His career includes 20 years as Director of Development for The Cleveland Orchestra, and more than 10 years  as a consuitant to both large and small organizations.  For more of his clear and well grounded articles, visit his website at


Major Donors and FundRaiser Basic by Larry Weaver

Major gifts, part 2: Working with donor Solicitors by Tony Poderis