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February 15, 2018

A Handy Tool for Major Gifts

Today, we’re giving you an essential tool for major gifts: a giving opportunities matrix to ensure you’re raising money for your organization’s true needs.

Without clearly defined giving opportunities, you are at risk of raising funds that (gasp!) your organization doesn’t actually need.

There’s a big distinction between raising money for activities that are “budget relieving” and for those that are above and beyond the budget.

Think about it like this: you have a previously defined cup (your budget) that needs to be filled. The cup is made up of fixed expenses and strategic priorities. Every gift you solicit that doesn’t help fill that cup is a potential distraction from the essential work at hand. You’re pouring water (or wine!) all over the table instead of into the cup.

But wait, you say, don’t I want to raise as much money as possible? And we say, maybe not! Certainly not if it saps resources away from your core work.

But wait, you say again, my major donors want to restrict their gifts. They won’t give to general operating. And we say, that’s right, so you need to give them a little direction.

There are basically four categories of gifts you can raise through major gifts:

  1. Unrestricted gifts –these are the gifts that are typically most useful to the organization. If you can frame your general operating needs in compelling enough ways, your major donors can be inspired to give generously without making restrictions.
  2. Quasi-restricted gifts – these are the second most useful gifts. By bundling giving opportunities into a few core program areas you can secure gifts that are semi-restricted, but that also allow flexibility in your spending. For example, if you work at an art museum, your core program areas might be exhibitions, conservation, collections, and public education. By asking major donors to support “conservation,” you can help them target their gift to something they care about without having them restrict it entirely. You can then spend the gift on anything within that broader category, whether it’s 20th century art or old masters.
  3. Restricted gifts – these are gifts for very specific purposes. Please don’t automatically assume that donors need to go this route. Give them a chance to make unrestricted or quasi-restricted gifts before you go down this path. But, sometimes, a donor really does want to give to a specific program and that’s ok. Just make sure it’s a program that you’re already planning to do!
  4. Gifts outside your budget – these really are the last resort for fundraising. Occasionally, a donor will enable you to do something exciting that you weren’t already planning to do. Make sure that you’re not “chasing the money” and be prepared to say no to a gift that doesn’t further your mission or that moves you in the wrong direction.

As you can see, this list is in order of what you should be emphasizing in your solicitation activities.

We’ve created a simple Major Gift Opportunities Matrix to help you organize what you’re pitching to prospects and define your key messages.

Make sure you reach consensus internally on your list of opportunities to ensure that the money you’re bringing in to the program team is money they can use to deliver results.

We recommend you start with this matrix when you’re launching a major gifts program. Or, if you’re already deep into major gifts fundraising, use this tool at the beginning of each year to reset your priorities.

Generally speaking, your donors want the same thing you do – to make a positive impact. Guiding them toward the investments that will best enable you to do your work is a favor to all involved.

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