Major Gift Fundraising: Insights from The Fox and the Grapes

One day a fox saw some juicy bunches of grapes hanging from a vine.  He jumped as high as he could to reach them but couldn’t so he gave up.  He walked nonchalantly away saying ‘Oooohhhhh I realise now that those grapes were sour’.  (Yes – hence the phrase ‘sour grapes’)

This reminds me of the many organisations I have worked with who have their eye on juicy bunches of grapes, particularly the low hanging ones that can be scooped up quickly without any planning or effort. Interestingly it is usually leadership who focus on this the most and want a quick return without too much thought or organisational engagement in the plan.  Despite that we shouldn’t come down too hard on leadership who, after all, have accountability for organisational spending and want to be good stewards of the finances and, anyway, all of us could do with a good dose of optimism and enthusiasm in our fundraising often translated as some early injections of income. However, perhaps this is misplaced in the early stages of a major gift programme.

It is true there can be some more easily plucked grapes usually from donors who have given in the past few years who were thanked but not contacted again. Sad but true. Amazingly, if they are approached and thanked for their gift, even if given three years ago, offered informative feedback on how their gift was used together with exciting progress of the project, they often do give again as part of making up for the lost time since their last gift. 

The fable is often described as the ‘disparaging of what one can’t obtain’ or more simply the loser’s scorn for the award that is not reached and this can lead us to another point. As major gift executives we have to prepare our organisation and in particular the leadership that the reward will come ……. but later. We have to help the organisation avoid the seeking of instant rewards.  Major gift programmes are at the opposite end of the scale from more instant fundraising programmes. You cannot compare like with like.  A major gift programme takes three years to bed in before you begin to see solid results.

There is another message here from our fox for major gift executives to not give in too quickly.  Sometimes we phone a supporter and the phone call doesn’t go that well and the temptation is too say ‘oh well I have plenty more supporters to call’ or ‘I didn’t think that was going to be a suitable donor for us anyway’. Perhaps just a tiny hint of sour grapes?  After a few similar calls it can be depressing and you may say ‘is this all worth it?’ ‘Is this going to produce results?’

I would suggest you move away from the expectation of instant success but also throw off any hint of sour grapes.  Every supporter you call could become a keen donor.  Some won’t but just let them go. You are just the messenger so keep going and you WILL find some keen major givers, perhaps not the short term low hanging fruit kind but consistent givers who have appreciated your commitment of time to them and the matching of their interests to your cause.  Your success is in your long term commitment to keep positive, keep making phone calls, keep building relationships rather than focusing on the money, releasing any hint of sour grapes and you will see significant results…………………………….. Promise!

Ruth is the principal and founder of Ascent Philanthropy, author of two books and passionate about helping non-profits with their major gift programmes by offering advice for introducing a new major gift programme or enhancing the productivity of the philanthropy team

2 Comments on “Major Gift Fundraising: Insights from The Fox and the Grapes

  1. Thanks so much for your wisdom and common sense Ruth! The timing of this post is perfect.

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