High Impact Philanthropy: How Donors, Boards, and Nonprofit Organizations Can Transform Communities


High Praise for High Impact Philanthropy

"Successful navigation through today’s changing world of philanthropy requires greater understanding by nonprofits and donors. High Impact Philanthropy meets this need."–Roberta W. Gutman, Executive Director, Motorola Foundation

"At a time when the terrain of American philanthropy is so rapidly shifting in new and unprecedented ways, this bright and focused analysis stands as a beacon of innovative thinking for donors and community organizers alike. By sketching in bold ...

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High Praise for High Impact Philanthropy

"Successful navigation through today’s changing world of philanthropy requires greater understanding by nonprofits and donors. High Impact Philanthropy meets this need."–Roberta W. Gutman, Executive Director, Motorola Foundation

"At a time when the terrain of American philanthropy is so rapidly shifting in new and unprecedented ways, this bright and focused analysis stands as a beacon of innovative thinking for donors and community organizers alike. By sketching in bold strokes the case for more effective collaborative giving, this book may well help transform our communities in the twenty-first century."–Peter deCourcy Hero,President, Community Foundation Silicon Valley

"High Impact Philanthropy provides a thoughtful analysis of how venture philanthropy is changing the way nonprofits run and how philanthropists give. Important parallels are made to the business world, demonstrating how nonprofits and donors can both benefit from putting their business hats on and running their organizations and giving programs like businesses."–Jan D’Alessandro Wadsworth, Vice President, AOL Foundation

"High Impact Philanthropy is an effective and articulate guide to planning a major gifts strategy, soliciting major gifts from individuals in a personable and efficient manner, and integrating this essential task into the very structure of a nonprofit organization."–Claude Rosenberg, Founder, New Tithing Group

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Editorial Reviews

Grace and Wendroff, both independent fundraising consultants, assert that the foundation for major gift fundraising is a solid institutional plan and a compelling mission. This text provides those involved with nonprofit organizations a framework and strategies for capitalizing on the convergence of a robust economy, a maturing nonprofit sector, and a growing awareness among new donors about how they can participate in shaping vigorous communities through gifts that transform. Annotation c. Book News, Inc., Portland, OR (booknews.com)
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Product Details

Table of Contents

About the Authors.



Editor's Introduction.



The New Organization: Redefining Major Gifts.

The Role of Major Gifts in the Overall Development Plan: Enhancing the Mission.

Recruiting Donor-Investors for a Major Gifts Culture in Nonprofit Organization.

Getting the Organization Behind the Transformational Giving Plan: Making the Case for Major Gifts.


Major Donor Motivation: The Key to Transformational Giving.

The Impact of Major Gifts on Organizations and Communities.

The New Major Donors: Who They Are and What They Are Looking For.

Identifying the Transformational Giver.


Asking for Major Gifts: The Role of Board and Staff Members.

Getting Your Share: How to Market Your Values to the Community.

Maintaining Your Major Donors: Critical Stewardship Practices.

New Strategies: Evaluating the Impact of Philanthropy.


Appendix A: High Impact Philantropy Timetable (HIPT).

Appendix B: Special Resources.


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First Chapter

Note: The Figures and/or Tables mentioned in this sample chapters do not appear on the Web.

The New Organization

Redefining Major Gifts

High impact philanthropy is based on the belief that communities, nonprofits, and donor-investors increasingly are partners in the strengthening of communities in America and around the world. Communities that benefit from these partnerships go beyond geography: They include those who cluster locally, regionally, nationally, or globally around an issue, problem, or idea.

The catalyst for high impact philanthropy is transformational giving. Each member plays a unique role in the high impact philanthropy partnership, and all members are essential.

  • Communities provide the vision, needs assessments, and trend analyses that allow nonprofits to address both the urgent and important issues
  • Nonprofits provide vision, staffing, expertise, networks, and client services
  • Donor-investors provide the financial resources and strategic involvement to ensure delivery of programs that will meet community needs.

The simplicity of this partnership belies its potential: If the partnership can function effectively and consistently in communities around the world, then this new golden age of philanthropy will have the promised impact.

Expectations for the impact of philanthropy in the twenty-first century are high. To meet them, all the partners must fulfill their roles:

  • Communities need to identify their needs in a more cohesive and consistent way, and convey those needs as opportunities for partnership with nonprofits and investors.
  • Nonprofit organizations need to change the way they view, approach, solicit, and steward major gifts. Nonprofits must shift from an institutional focus to an issues, constituency, and donor-investor focus.
  • Donor-investors need to be informed about the opportunities for investment that exist in communities and educated in the ways of philanthropy so they can make discerning choices among the organizations that address the issues, ideas, and problems about which donor-investors are concerned.


The proliferation of nonprofits has increased the number of choices donor-investors can make about where their money is invested in the community. The competition is stiff, and the ability of nonprofits to position themselves successfully for major gifts requires a much greater focus, both on the donor-investor and on the community issues or needs the organization is meeting. To be successful, organizations must identify their values and issues, convey them actively in the community, and base their major donor outreach and involvement efforts on those values and issues.

The bottom line is that increasing numbers of major donors are looking for more satisfaction than just helping nonprofits reach their financial goals. They are looking for tangible evidence that their gifts are making a difference, and they want to know from the outset what the potential impact is. They are also looking for involvement for themselves and for accountability from the organization.

It is not only among the newer philanthropists that these phenomena are apparent. One donor, a long-time supporter of a particular issue through several agencies that she supports, has grown increasingly impatient with the passive stewardship and lack of accountability provided by several of the organizations she has always supported, she is now focusing more of her giving on another organization--one that deals with the same issue, but that has given her a more active role in providing advice and counsel. She feels the organization's interest is sincere and that its staff members listen to her. She feels respected not only for her financial support but for her ideas and experience as well.


Another influential aspect of twenty-first century philanthropy is the number of donors who want to choose the organization to which they will give. They want to identify those organizations whose missions reflect issues of importance to them, whose values support theirs, and whose management is sound. This presents a challenge for nonprofits used to initiating the process themselves--identifying potential major funders, conducting research, initiating cultivation, preparing proposals, arranging site visits, and then waiting for the response. Now, there is a new way of doing business. Nonprofits must learn to position themselves effectively through marketing and public relations and through consistency in messages, based not only on their merits as organizations but on the way in which they are helping to solve issues of common community concern.

The growth of family foundations among those with newly earned or inherited wealth is one of the major early trends in twenty-first-century philanthropy. Often the role of the board members of these family foundations is the active pursuit of appropriate organizations to fund. In the past, some family foundations were created because the families had certain organizations they wanted to fund and this was the most appropriate way to focus that giving. Today, the newer family foundations are very issue-focused. They also tend to involve younger members of the family. One foundation, established in the late 1990s, involves the teenage children in the decision making, and lets them practice their philanthropy by designating gifts to areas of special interest to them.

It is not unusual for the representatives of these new foundations to request a meeting with someone from an organization the family is researching--to test whether the organization meets their criteria for investment relative to the issues they feel are important. Agreat deal hinges on the response by the nonprofit to that initial contact by the foundation: The organization's response will be evaluated for its timeliness, quality, and preparation, and as an indicator of the viability of a potential investor relationship. Asluggish response or a poorly prepared meeting--or worse, an arrogance on the part of a nonprofit that it is "the only game in town"--may doom that nonprofit's chances for funding. As a sector, we need to realize that, with a whole new wave of vibrant and interested funders, we need to change the way we do business.


It is time to look at major gifts with a fresh perspective, one that will ensure the continued involvement of the donor-investor, the repeated support of these donor-investors, in varying forms, including additional major gifts, regular annual gifts, and planned gifts, and the ability of the organization to continue to meet its mission and the needs it has identified, and to serve its community.

In traditional major giving, the emphasis was on the transaction. It was an internally driven process with the donor as the outside part of the equation. To meet ambitious goals, major gifts officers were instructed to focus on the transaction, and the activities leading up to it, and the best major gifts officers were experts in these transactions. This focus on the transaction, rather than on the values exchange, mission link, and potential impact of the gift on both the donor and the institution, diminished the opportunities for donor connection and stewardship that would lead to long-term relationships and repeated gifts. Major gifts programs slipped into a rou-tine--goal-focused rather than outcome-focused--that led, in far too many cases, to the decline of the overall major gifts program at a time when it should have been on the increase. This was particularly true at what is often called the special gifts level: those gifts that usually fall just under the official designation for major gifts in large institutions, or those gifts that in smaller institutions may be for special projects and not really fall into the annual budget or merit a special campaign. Many potentially major and long-term donor-investors were lost from programs like these because of the transactional focus. Their giving needed to be viewed relative to its impact: from that basis, a relationship is easily developed.

In transformational giving, the focus is on the impact of the gift and the renewing relationship, not just on the transaction. Although the transaction should be geared to the needs, style, and wishes of the donor within the scope and mission of the organization, the focus must be on the transforming nature of the gift.

Defining Transformational Gifts

Transformational gifts are voluntary contributions from individuals, foundations, or corporations to nonprofit organizations, the size and focus of which initiate and often sustain significant transformation or change in the organization, in the donor, and even in the community. These contributions may be categorized as "big" or "major" gifts, but their unique capacity to alter the programs, perception, and future of an organization distinguish them from other big or major gifts. More than gifts, they are true investments in the future of an organization and of the community. Transformational giving goes beyond the donor's usual annual transactional gift. Transformational gifts are an inclusive investment of the donor's values made in organizations whose values the donor shares. The resultant values exchange results in high impact philanthropy.


Major gifts have traditionally constituted the upper end of the gift pyramid, and they still do. These basic aspects remain true of major gifts:

  • They are categorized as major based on the relationship of the amount to the size of the organization's annual budget or to a capital or endowment campaign goal.
  • Major gifts can be unrestricted (for use wherever the need is greatest) or restricted to a particular program, person, or purpose. There are recurring major restricted gifts (e. g., for learning disability programs, scholarship support, free breast cancer screenings, dance touring, curator acquisition funds, etc.), although most major annual gifts are unrestricted. Conversely, there are nonrecurring, unrestricted major gifts (e. g., an undesignated bequest, or a campaign gift for unrestricted program support).
  • There are recurring major gifts and nonrecurring major gifts (e. g., campaign, endowment, or planned gifts). Arecurring major gift is one that is given annually or often enough that it can be counted on; a nonrecurring major gift is one that will not be repeated again (or in some cases, not for a very long time). The following quadrant, developed by Linda Moerschbaecher, a San Francisco planned-giving attorney, shows how these gifts can be "mixed and matched" in a well-developed major gifts program:

All major transformational gifts still fit into this quadrant. Connecting any of the boxes vertically or diagonally to another describes all the ways in which major gifts can be given.


Most institutions, whether large (universities, established independent boarding and day schools, hospitals, religious organizations, national health organizations, major cultural institutions) or small (independent day schools, community museums, local clinics), have traditionally set a major gifts goal each year. This goal is usually a percentage of a fundraising budget figure that is based on the total amount that must be raised to meet the budget, rather than on a careful consideration of the ways in which those gifts could have a deeper and lasting impact on the institution, the community, the institution's constituency, and the donor.

Although these desired gifts are usually pegged to a case for support, the case is most often defined in terms of organizational needs (computers, beds, playgrounds, unrestricted current program support) than in terms of the needs the organization is trying to meet in the community (why the computers, beds, playgrounds, and program support are needed). Goals are usually derived from planning processes that are the result of looking in mirrors at institutional needs rather than through windows at the community. Too little market analysis is done and zero-based program planning and budgeting is viewed by too many organizations as a threat. Organizations find themselves seeking major gifts for programs or services that may no longer be meeting community needs. Worse, sometimes money is raised for projects that never happen, or are never completed, and donor accountability is poor. Large organizations, and smaller organizations with less complexity or experienced staffing in their fund development, will plug in an arbitrary figure to raise from major donors in their annual funds.

When the money is fixed to institutional needs, the appeal for gifts is based on an internally-motivated goal. Targets are derived from how much money is needed to meet a goal rather than from defined community needs and the existence of prospects who can and will make those gifts. Too often, potential donors with no relationship to the organization are assigned to major gifts officers who, for their own employment evaluations, have ambitious fund-raising goals to achieve. This pressure leads to a transactional approach based more on the accumulation of gifts to reach an internal goal than on the development of relationships with investors. More than one major gifts officer has expressed the exhaustion of always trying to raise more and more, without a reward system in place that recognizes ongoing relationships with existing donors. They feel as though they are making cold calls.


An unfortunate trend that began in the late twentieth century, particularly among large institutions with full major gifts staffs, was the increased reliance on staff people to initiate, cultivate, solicit, and steward major gifts without the partnership of volunteers. The decline in the number of volunteers involved in fund-raising at many major universities and other institutions is a curious trend, one that hopefully will not continue.

A strong major gifts program attribute has been, and continues to be, the involvement of volunteers as partners in the development process. The subject of countless training sessions and meetings, the growth of board members and other volunteers into comfortable askers was and is a tremendous benefit of the transactional approach. Viewed correctly as a critical part of the transaction because of their links to the prospects and existing donors, volunteers have been a force in increasing the leverage power of most successful major gifts programs. Volunteer linkage is vital, and is the principal reason for involving volunteers in the major gifts process--but there is another reason for involving them as well: The more they exercise their roles as asker-advocates, the more committed they become to the mission. Their enthusiasm for their roles as ambassadors and capable spokespeople increases, and they become more effective in all aspects of the organization's governance, programs, and outreach efforts. They become effective agents in transformational giving as the stewards of relationships.


Major or transformational gifts in start-up organizations, unless the organization was seed funded by one or more individual donors, traditionally came from foundation funding. Reliance on foundations was seen as short-term while other sources of funding were being developed from individuals, associations, corporations, or government. Some organizations were successful at weaning themselves from heavy foundation support and involving new sources of funding; others were not. In general, major gifts--particularly those publicly recognized as transformational--remained the success stories of larger cultural, educational, health, or other institutions or of highly experienced smaller organizations with an urgent mission to fulfill.


One persistent practice of smaller (and some larger) organizations--a practice that defies everything we are learning about the donor as an investor-- was that of not going back to a major donor in the following year to ask for another gift. When asked why a particular donor was not solicited again, the organization would reply that it did not want the donor to think it needed the money. This stance led to two destructive outcomes: (1) The donor was neither involved as an investor nor given an opportunity to reinvest in a program that was fulfilling both the donor's and the organization's dream for the community; and (2) the organization found itself frantically searching every year (or every campaign) for new major donors. The only valid reason for not asking in subsequent years or campaigns is that the donor has said not to. Otherwise, it is poor stewardship not to go back to donors for additional support for programs in which they have become investors. The concern about being perceived as needing more money is groundless in the donor-investor and transformational giving models. When a person invests in a nonprofit and is satisfied with the impact of that investment, he or she will want to make additional investments. It is a way of enhancing the original investment and ensuring the continued delivery on mission by the organization. The donor feels ownership for the success of the program and wants to stay involved.

Another practice that fit with transactional programs but does not belong in transformational programs relates to donor involvement. In more traditional major giving, donors typically were not involved and, in too many cases for comfort, did not even receive adequate communication relative to the impact of the gift on the mission and the community. One donor who gave an impact-level gift of $7,000 to a tiny organization in her community never heard from the organization again. It is still in existence, but she has not given again.

In traditional major giving, the philanthropy that was encouraged, and that resulted, was more passive than active. Today's newer philanthropists refer to this as "checkbook philanthropy." Donors gave, they were thanked, and they were then left alone (unless they were board members or involved in an advisory capacity) with only occasional communication until it was time to be asked again. Assumptions were too frequently made that donors did not want to be involved, they just wanted to give. In fact, organizations somehow assumed that donors would not want to be bothered. We now realize that many of these donors were never asked if they wanted to be involved, and many would have become involved if asked. To be effective partners with donor-investors and communities, nonprofits will need to shift from transactional giving to transformational giving.


While the size of the gift is still the aspect on which we focus, there are eight other aspects common to all major transformational gifts, regardless of their size.

1. Transformational gifts have an impact on the organization, its constituency, the donor, and the community.

2. Agift's designation as transformational often has much to do with how it is cultivated, solicited, and stewarded.

3. Transformational gifts are more than gifts; they are investments (Grace, 1997).

4. Gifts are motivated by shared values between the investor and the organization.

5. Gifts are rooted in a belief in the importance of the organization's mission, and increasingly, they are issue driven.

6. Donor-investors expect solid return from two bottom lines: the return on values, and the management of their investment.

7. Just as a gift is designated major by its size relative to the budget or the campaign goal, some donor-investors should be treated like major donors because of the relationship of the size of their gift to their capacity to give.

8. An organization does not have to be large or long established to attract a major gift, as long as the mission or issue is big in the eyes (or heart) of the donor.

Examining the Eight Aspects of the Major Transformational Gift

1. Transformational gifts have an impact on the organization, its constituency, the donor, and on the community. This is the most important qualifier for a major transforming gift, because it determines the way in which the organization stewards both the gift and the giver. The notion of impact is one that brings into consideration not just the organization, but its mission in the community. Agift that establishes, for example, an endowed book fund for a library, a choreographer's fund for a dance company, a scholarship fund for a school or college, a particular collection or program for a museum, or a physician's position in a clinic in an underserved area of a community, cannot be measured by the impact on the budget alone. Such a gift must be measured, recognized, honored, and respected for its impact on the community members whose needs the organization is meeting: those who use the library, the choreographers whose artistry will affect both dancers and audiences, the people who will visit and be educated by the collection or program, the young people or adult students who will have access to education, and the people who will be served by the clinic in the community. These are the true measurements of impact--and the best test of a transforming major gift. In soliciting major gifts it is essential to focus on the benefits to the community of such an investment. Too often, the focus is put instead on the benefit to the organization. Although it is, indeed, the organization that delivers the program that has the impact, the ultimate measure of a gift is the impact itself. Philanthropy (Payton, 1988) has one or both of two purposes: to ease human suffering, and/ or to enhance human potential. Organizations should not forget those measures when cultivating, soliciting, and stewarding major gifts.

The initial gift of $15 million to the San Francisco Asian Art Museum from Chong Moon Lee, a Korean-American businessman, transformed the community perception of the museum's $160 million capital campaign, and also provided much-needed leverage for attracting other transactional gifts. The involvement of this donor since the gift was made has exceeded his involvement before the gift was made, and has led to further investment on his part and to his willingness to be involved in the solicitation of other transforming gifts.

2. A gift's designation as transformational often has much to do with how it is cultivated, solicited, and stewarded. As described earlier in this chapter, transactional giving focuses on the transaction itself: Systematic cultivation and appropriate solicitation lead to a gift. The gift is negotiated with the donor, properly acknowledged, and then put to work in the organization and for the community. After the receipt of the gift, the appropriate recognition for the gift (plaque, reception, dinner) is seen as the end of the transaction. If the donor is already involved as a current or former board member, then there will be continued (but not necessarily increased) involvement.

Transformational gifts, should be viewed as the beginning of a new relationship. Focus shifts to the way in which the gift, or investment, transforms the organization, the people the organization serves, the community and the donor. This shift leads, ultimately, to a partnership with the donor, one that goes back to the roots of philanthropy identified by de Toqueville (Democracy in America, 1831): the need people have to make a difference. The spread of America's approach to philanthropy to the rest of the world has been slower than other aspects, but the movement is underway. Philanthropy throughout the world is changing, principally the aspect of the relationship with the donor. The donor-investor's connection with the organization, in transformational giving, must be maintained through identification and involvement with the program, not just with the administration. Always a motivation, donors today are more outspoken about wanting to be connected with the program (artistic director, counselor, curator, holder of the chair funded by the donor). Organizations need to create ongoing opportunities for donor-investors and potential donor-investors to connect often with program. Having a mission message at each board meeting is a strong component in maintaining board-member focus on program, but most organizations do not provide that same opportunity for donor-investors who are not on the board. Adonor becomes a donor-investor (Grace, 1997), and the gift becomes the catalyst for involving the donor-investor in the impact of the gift. Communication about impact relies on program staff and on the people who directly benefit from the gift.

3. Transformational gifts are more than gifts: they are investments (Grace, 1997). Increasingly, those who give large gifts and are interviewed by the press speak of their gifts not as donations or contributions but as investments. These are savvy people who understand the leveraging power of making an investment in an idea or issue of importance to the community. The landscape of philanthropy is changing so fast that organizations need to shift their attitudes toward gifts and givers to acknowledge that these are now investments and investors. These investors expect the values and financial-stability return on the information provided, they expect consistent and accurate information, they expect to be invited to become involved (even if they choose not to), and they expect interaction with the people in the organization who are delivering the programs, not just with administrators. They also expect a certain amount of access to those programs. Executive directors are learning to live with new paradigms in staff-board, staff-nonboard volunteer, and staff-investor relationships.

4. Gifts are motivated by shared values by the investor and the organization. Philanthropy is the way people act on the values they share with an organization, and on the values they hold dear for their lives, their families and their communities (Grace, 1997). Promoting these values is paramount in positioning nonprofits for significant transformational gifts. Nonprofits chronically shy away from openness about their values, fearing that potential donors will think they are emotional or inappropriate. When non-profits began to respond to the growing need for accountability in the 1980s, they adopted (appropriately) more corporate management and reporting systems. Along with this positive step, however, nonprofits took a companion action that in retrospect was ill-advised. In adopting more corporate mission statements, many organizations forgot that nonprofit mission statements must incorporate the why (the values) of their existence. Mission statements focused only on what the organization did or was doing, which was descriptive, but not inspiring. In a message-driven world in which product and service commercials based entirely on values are commonplace, the nonprofit marketplace has chosen to submerge its values in its quest to appear more corporate. This misses the point. Nonprofits need to be managed and evaluated as responsible businesses, but the attraction for donors is still going to be the issue at hand: a human or societal issue of primary importance to the shared values by the community and the potential donor.

5. Gifts are rooted in a belief in the importance of the organization's mission, and increasingly, they are issue driven. Increasingly, gifts are issue driven, and the mission statement needs to express those issues, not simply describe the organization. Amission statement that describes what the organization does may not describe the issue (homelessness, access to art or culture for all citizens, education with and about diversity, etc.) in a way that attracts the attention of people interested in funding that issue. Traditional philanthropic approaches have been based on attracting donors to fund an organization. Now, although that is the ultimate goal, funders want to first find out what your issue is, whether it matches with their interests, and whether this would be a good investment. Every communications piece from an organization should focus on quantifying and describing the need or issue, why it is important to the community, and what the organization is doing about it. It should contain some examples of specific individuals or groups who have benefited from the work of the organization in addressing this issue, and should indicate who is already involved and how others can become engaged. Brochures and press releases that continue to focus only on the organization and its needs are not inspiring to donors. They do not deal with the issues that allow a community to come together around shared beliefs and values--and increasingly, they do not attract significant gifts. The $100 million gift in 1999 to the University of Mississippi was given by an alumnus, but its purpose was to address the chronic issue of illiteracy in the state of Mississippi. The donors are concerned about the issue; they have identified University of Mississippi as the agency to address that issue in their home state.

6. Donor-investors expect solid return from two bottom lines: the return on values, and the demonstration of sound financial practices. Accountability is here to stay. This important nonprofit achievement of the late twentieth century helped position the sector as the appropriate vehicle to take up where government had left off, and to do it better. It happened first in the United States and is now happening throughout much of the world. From Bangkok to Berlin, from Paris to Pittsburgh, from Milwaukee to Memphis, organizations are turning increasingly to the private sector for support as government funding recedes and/ or as government programs reveal themselves to be inappropriate to provide a particular program or service efficiently. However, in the nonprofit's heightened focus on the financial bottom line, it is important to remember the other bottom line: the return on values (Grace, 1997). Agreat deal of the donor's values are imbedded in the gift, particularly with transformational gifts. With values investment comes expectations--not only for financial performance, but also for clear reporting on the values that are being upheld and enhanced. Annual reporting needs to be numbers-strong and values-clear. Excellent annual reports are rich with photographs and stories that make clear the connection between financial investment and values return.

7. Just as a gift is designated major by its size relative to the budget or the campaign goal, some donor-investors should be treated like major donors because of the relationship of the size of their gift to their capacity to give. Transformational giving differs from transactional giving in that it is not formulaic. Although the internal benchmarks for major gifts are still maintained, particularly as they relate to general recognition practices, the emphasis on relationships and involvement in transformational giving allows organizations to involve and appreciate those donors whose gifts may not be at the benchmark level on an absolute scale, but whose gifts relative to their ability to give make them truly transformational in its effect on them as donors. Furthermore, the transformational nature of these gifts extends to the inspiration their donors provide to board members and other volunteers, to staff, and to other potential donor-investors. Their stories generate interest and commitment in others. One National Society of Fund-Raising Executives (NSFRE) chapter selected a donor like this as its Philanthropist of the Year. Her total giving was, over her lifetime, much less than other philanthropists might give in a year; but as a person who had worked all her life as a domestic servant and had given everything she could into a scholarship fund for students who otherwise would not have a chance at a better life, she had helped transform the community.

8. An organization does not have to be large or long established to attract a major gift, as long as the mission is big in the eyes (or heart) of the donor. Although large established institutions are most apt to receive truly transforming gifts, a growing number of smaller organizations--particularly those addressing critical educational, social, health, and cultural issues in our communities--find themselves singled out by issues-focused philanthropists for transformational gifts. Achamber music orchestra with a budget of less than a half million dollars received three annual $100,000 gifts in a row from an individual who does not accept solicitations: He chooses which organizations he funds. Similarly, another small orchestra receives regular support for its recording program from an individual who chooses to remain anonymous. This person's support has allowed the discography of the orchestra to achieve a remarkable level of productivity and quality. The key point is the importance of the mission, not the size of the organization. It has been standard practice in more traditional philanthropy that smaller and/ or newer organizations felt they had to wait before they could solicit really large gifts. In twenty-first-century philanthropy, the options for all organizations depend on three key factors that are not pegged to size or age:

  • the importance of the need the organization is meeting
  • the way the issue is marketed to the community
  • and the success of the organization's planned or actual approach to the issue.


These eight aspects of major transformational gifts form the foundation of this book. In nonprofits of all sizes, major gifts are both a goal and a program. Aspired to by small organizations, and mastered by large organizations, major gifts are the fulcrum of successful development operations. They are a critical part of institutional stability--strengthening programs, building endowment, creating operating or capital reserves that guarantee the continuity of services, and signaling to the community that the organization is capable of attracting and managing significant philanthropic investment.

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