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

Monday, November 26, 2012

Every Donor a Major Donor

One question that's always likely to come up when I teach a workshop on fund development is, "How do you define a major donor?" People ask this to determine some sort of line in how to thank and care for their donors; where to set the bar in setting aside one group of donors for "special treatment."

If that's their goal, then the answer really depends on the size of the organization, and how well-developed and successful their individual giving program is. For some organizations "major" may be those who give gifts over $25,000 or even $50,000, while for others it may be any donor who gives more than $500 or $1,000.

But one thing I try to explain to those I teach, coach, or advise, is that it is important to personally thank every donor, and that every gift - no matter how large or small - has the potential to be major to that donor. The person who is struggling themselves, but makes a personal sacrifice to send you $25 deserves at least as much thanks as the rich person who writes a much larger check to lower their tax liability.

I was reminded of this recently when my wife and I were invited to a special donor reception at our alma mater. When we opened the invitation, we looked at each other to ask, "How much did you send them!?" My wife is a public school teacher and I am a consultant to small, local nonprofits. We are not rich by any stretch, and our donations are not at all what a large university would ordinarily consider "major." We thought a mistake may have been made, but we RSVP'd anyway and went to the reception.

It was no mistake that we were on the list. There was no dollar cut-off for this thank you event. What had happened was that we had designated our gift this year to a new endowed chair in honor of one my wife's favorite professors. All early supporters at the fund's launch were invited, regardless of the size of the gift.

We attended with no more than 50 other local alumni, professors, and university staff at the Chancellor's house for a lovely afternoon with delicious snacks, wine, and a few short speeches, thank yous, and a performance from a current student. At no point during the event was there any hint of an ask. There was no fundraising that day, only thanking those who had already given.

As one who is more used to (and comfortable) doing the thanking, it was a pleasant change to be on the other side, and inspirational to see how well a large organization like a major university could do in creating an intimate and personal thank you event for donors at all levels.

How personal are your organization's thank yous? Do you have a cut-off for those who get a personal response versus those who get a form letter? When was the last time you reviewed your major gift and thank you policies?

I can pretty much guarantee that following that reception all of our annual alumni gifts will be going to this particular fund. The gifts may be small, but as long as they are appreciated, they will continue.