What is a Major Gift?

I am not a big believer in using a formula to decide the major donor level for your charity.  This is mostly because if you are managing smaller donors, such as £250 – £2,000 donors, the statistics don’t add up.  A full time role has to bring in a minimum of 5 times, that is, a Return On Investment (ROI) of 1:5.  Assuming an average cost of £50,000 for the Major Gifts Executive (MGE) including National Insurance, pension and costs, the minimum expectation would be £250,000. 

If this is received from 250 x £1,000 donors you would need to undertake extensive donor management to maintain this donor group and have little scope for developing the philanthropic (£10k + ) donor potential.   I would therefore definitely label this a mid value programme.

A member of staff may, initially, manage both, but then it is far more effective to name it a ‘Mid Value Programme’ and leave scope later for developing a new potential ‘Major Gifts Programme’ for Major Donors.   For clarity a Major Gifts Executive should be securing £10k+ gifts from each qualified donor on their caseload in one financial year whether cumulative or as one gift.  As with all Major Gifts Programmes it will take 1- 3 years to build relationships sufficiently to achieve this.

A very good Major Gifts Programme should achieve an ROI of 1:10.   An excellent Programme will achieve 1:20.   However it may take 5 years to achieve this ideal.  A 1:5 return is good aim for year 2 of a Major Gifts Programme.

If you are new to this, I would make sure you have a minimum size database of 15,000 and begin to develop a ‘Mid Value Programme’ first.  This would include:

  • Higher asks in your appeal, use of higher money handles on the response form (£250, £500, £1,000)
  • Phone and thank every donor at this level within 48 hours of receiving the gift
  • Prepare a special email project update just for this group and send minimum 2 in a year
  • As the group builds have an open day at your office
  • Cultivate these donors without doing personal one to one visits

This varies from a Major Donor group that you have qualified as being capable of a £10,000+ gift.  With this group it means:

  • Monthly communication sometimes more
  • Travel time to their home or office regularly
  • In-depth study of the research about them, memorising this before every meeting
  • Memorising every detail about their family
  • Engaging with their family, their pets
  • Listening to every word spoken so you truly know them
  • Introducing them to your Chief Executive and the Director who will meet what they need
  • Hearing their heart
  • Understanding their values and trying to match their values with your charity’s offering
  • Answering their questions and objections
  • Allowing them to journey with you at their pace

This is a vast commitment on your part and is worthy of your valuable time.  However each donor/potential donor needs to be at the £10,000+ level.   You cannot offer this service to a £2,000 donor unless they are capable of giving more but are still warming to you and your charity.

So to differentiate between the two programmes is important.   I would advise you not to start a ‘Mid Value Programme’ and call it a ‘Major Gifts’ or even ‘Major Donor Programme.

If you have a 15,000 plus database you may be in a position to start a ‘Major Gifts Programme’ straight away.  You will need to undertake a wealth overlay to check that you have wealthy individuals on your database.  If not look after your mid value donors as a first step.

Please let me know your thoughts or ask a question here.

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

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *


This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.