Ken Goldstein, MPPA

Ken Goldstein has been working in nonprofits and local government agencies from Santa Cruz, to Sacramento, and back to Silicon Valley, since 1989. He's been staff, volunteer, board member, executive director, and, since 2003, a consultant to local nonprofit organizations. For more on Ken's background, click here. If you are interested in retaining Ken's services, you may contact him at ken at

Friday, April 07, 2006

Major Gifts Anybody?

A question I often hear in nonprofit discussions is, "How do you define 'major gifts'?" Which always makes me wonder, "Do you consider any gifts to be 'minor'?"

Most organizations have a dollar threshold for what they consider "major." That figure can range from as low as $500 to as much as $50,000+. Which is right?

A better answer I've heard from a few organizations is to define your major gifts as the top 10% of your donors. That gives you a floating goal that will, hopefully, rise as your fundraising efforts are more successful. Using a floating definition like that, your major gift threshold may be $1,000 today, but can rise to $5,000 in a year or so.

But, again, there's the question of why do we need to define "major" gifts? Aren't all our donors special?

In a perfect world, where we had all the time we needed to do all that we need to do to run our organizations, we could give individual attention to every donor. Each $10 check would result in a phone call from the executive director or board chair thanking the donor for their gift, and we'd be inviting them all for lunch on a regular basis.

The reality is that we need to use our resources wisely (and time is the most scarce of resources). We define what we consider to be a major gift so that we can prioritize our efforts and make sure that we have identified our strongest supporters and are giving them the attention that they deserve.

We do our best to be courteous and thankful to all, but it is a wise business decision to focus a little extra effort and care on those special few. How you define "major gifts" is not as important as defining how you cultivate and keep those supporters.

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