Looking for Your Top Campaign Gift? Check These 5 Places First
If you are in a capital campaign, you’ve got to have some prospective donors who are likely to give really big gifts.
If your campaign goal is $5 million, for example, you’ll likely need a gift of $1 million or more to anchor your campaign. If your goal is $3 million, you’ll need a gift of between $500,000 and $750,000.
Typically, the top campaign gift is between 15 and 30 percent of the campaign goal. And that depends on number of people who are already giving you money. If you have a very small pool of donors, the lead gift will have to be high. If you have a large, well-developed donor base, a top gift of 15 percent might be adequate.
Dispel Magical Thinking
Let’s start by dispelling any idea that the person who will give you the top gift to your campaign is likely to be someone you and your organization have had no contact with. That’s magical thinking. The notion that some very rich person or foundation somewhere who has not heard of you or your organization yet is going to come in give you the largest gift is badly misguided.
Just having money—even gobs of it—does not qualify someone to be a donor for your organization. And even if it appears that the donor has supported other projects to organizations with similar missions, doesn’t make him or her a qualified donor for you.
The ABCs of Qualified Donors
To be a qualified donor, someone has to have three characteristics. They’ve got to have:
A: The ability to make a large gift.
B: A recognized belief in your mission.
C: A real connection with your organization.
Now, if you know someone who qualifies in ability and belief, it may be that over time—with a significant effort—you can develop a connection. But that’s not likely to happen quickly.
Relationships like the one you need to build take time. By all means, work on that. But start early and be patient and persistent. It’s likely to take more than a few weeks or months.
Look for Your Lead Gift in These 5 Places
Once you put aside the idea that some rich person you don’t yet know is going to be your largest donor, you’ll get to work identifying the more likely prospects. And the best places to look for them are right in your current donor base and in your community.
If you live in a small to mid-size community, the people who can give really big gifts aren’t hard to spot. Here are five places to look.
1. Large donors you currently have
Just because someone has already made a large gift to your organization doesn’t mean that they won’t do so again. In fact, they are your most likely lead donors. So, start by making a list of the 10 people who have given the most money to your organization cumulatively over the past five years.
2. Donors in your community with a history of large gifts
You, undoubtedly, have some people or foundations in your donor base who are giving at a low or mid-level. Hiding in that group may be people who are large donor to other organizations in your community. Just because someone in your community who has expressed an interest in your organization hasn’t yet given a very large gift doesn’t mean that they won’t. Be on the lookout for donors who have a history of giving occasional large gifts to organizations in your community. Get to know them and why they give.
3. Donors of a similar geographic reach
Often lead gifts will come from donors whose sense of scale and scope matches that of your project. If your organization is local and serves only your local community, the chances are very good that your lead donor will tightly align with the local community too. But, if your organization has a regional, statewide, national or even international reach, you should look for donors with a history of giving in a way that matches your geography.
4. People who have been served by your organization
Review the list of people your organization has helped in a profound way. Sometimes people seem to have modest means, but sometimes they have more than you might imagine. People sometimes inherit money, or sell a business, or have some other source of income.
Always be on the lookout for indicators. Read your local newspapers for information about the people on your list. Pay attention to subtle changes in lifestyle. Note that people who inherit wealth or come into their money suddenly are often not experienced philanthropists. They may be uncomfortable with the idea of making a large gift and may feel strongly about keeping their new found wealth hidden.
5. The younger generation of philanthropic families
Pay attention to the rising generation of philanthropic leaders in your community. Established philanthropic families in your community may be looking for opportunities for younger family members to cut their teeth on a capital campaign. And if a younger family member gets involved, there’s a good chance that they will bring their family resources along with them.
Your capital campaign is a perfect time to strengthen your relationships with the donors on your lists who are not yet giving to you at capacity. The high impact of your campaign gives you a wonderful opportunity to talk to these people and draw them closer.
Enjoy the opportunity!
How to Determine the Right Lead Gift for Your Organization
Andrea Kihlstedt is an innovative leader and expert in capital campaign fundraising. She wrote "Capital Campaigns: Strategies That Work (4th ed)," often referred to as the “bible” of capital campaign fundraising. She founded Capital Campaign Masters and co-founded Capital Campaign Toolkit, an online capital campaign resource and platform.