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Which Comes First: Major Gifts Program or Capital Campaign?

Most organizations assume that a strong major gifts program is a prerequisite for a capital campaign. After all… how can you meet your audacious campaign goal if you don’t have a robust major gifts program?

It's like the classic question - which came first, the chicken or the egg?

Capital campaigns, by their very nature, rely on a few very large gifts to reach a big goal. Often, the top 10-20 campaign gifts bring in more than 60-80% of the total goal. That is one of the reasons why campaigns have the highest ROI among all fundraising tactics. 

But, what if your organization doesn’t have a formal major gifts program? Does that mean a capital campaign is out of your reach?

NO! In fact, I have worked with numerous organizations that did not have a “major gifts program” but still achieved their campaign goal. What they did have were the elements for success.

Elements for Success

Your board or staff might worry that you don’t have a formal “Major Gifts Program” and all that it entails. But, what you really need are a few specific things:

  1. Large gift prospects. Do you have individuals in your donor database who have the capacity to give more than they’re currently giving? Do you have donors who could make a multiyear pledge that will get your organization significantly closer to its goal? Run your data through a wealth screening tool or do some old-fashioned research to see if your donors are making larger gifts to other organizations or have untapped financial resources.

  2. The internal people who can focus on relationships and asking. This will likely include a mix of staff and board members with the willingness to ask for big gifts. They don’t necessarily need past experience or solicitation skills at the beginning of the campaign, but they must be coachable and willing to learn those skills. 

  3. The tools for success. Once you know you have the people—both givers and askers—you need to make sure you have the systems. At a minimum, this includes a donor database (CRM) that has the ability to track relationships, analyze giving data, and create reports.

  4. A compelling reason to give. This one may seem obvious, but it’s always surprising to see how many organizations try to fundraise through a campaign, but don’t have a compelling reason for their donors to step up. If you’re going to ask for a larger-than-usual gift, your organization also needs a larger-than-usual vision for the future. What will be the impact of the campaign? How will the world be better if donors give to this effort?

Reframe and Connect

It might be helpful to reframe your thinking: instead of trying to build a capital-letter Major Gifts Program with all the bells and whistles, start focusing on relationship building, listening, and authentic connecting.

Image by Azmil Umry from Pixabay


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