Navigating the Road Ahead with a Worthwhile Project

If you want to attract and secure major gifts or launch a capital campaign, you will need a Big Idea – a good story, and a worthwhile project for donors to invest in.

If you want to change the future, your nonprofit organization will need to focus on identifying, securing, and retaining major gifts.  Estimates of total dollars donated  to charitable organizations indicate that in 2020 Americans contributed  more than ever before —  five percent more than in 2019 and totaling $471 billion (Giving USA 2021).  The importance of the major gifts has become more evident than ever.  However, the trend line in recent years is that major giving is up, but the number of major gift donors is down – an unsustainable situation.

A Worthwhile Project

Historically, launching a capital campaign was the best way to focus an organization’s constituency and leadership on securing major gifts.  Is this still true today?  MacKenzie Scott (formerly married to Jeff Bezos)  made headlines by giving nearly $6 billion to charity last year, much of it for unrestricted and undesignated purposes.  Undeniably, there is growing dialog amongst foundation grant-making leaders about the importance of unrestricted support for general nonprofit operations.  But whose job will it be to convince your board of directors that their idea of placing a cold call to Ms. Scott does not in any way qualify as a fundraising plan?

The Second Essential Element of Success states just that organization’s need to identify a Big Idea and a worthwhile project.  The fundraising campaign needs to be about something important, something that people consider to be worth the time, effort, and expense required to get it done.

Essential Element #2. “A worthwhile project”

The nonprofit leaders we have had the pleasure of working with strongly believe in the importance of their organization’s work.  Successful major gift campaigns are about more than ongoing operations and maintaining current programs and services.  In our experience, your organization’s Big Idea must meet the following criteria:

  • The campaign should build the capacity of the organization on a permanent basis — by adding new services, improving or expanding existing services, or extending services to new constituencies.
  • The campaign should respond to a need that is perceived as urgent. By this, we mean the kind of need that is felt by those the organization is in business to serve, rather than something the organization’s leaders think it should have.
  • The campaign objectives should reflect a vision of what more the organization, with increased investments, could mean to the community, and what more it could do for those it serves, or could serve. A vision paints a picture of a desirable future, one that the organization and its donors can actually help to create.  The objectives of the campaign must be more than a collection of unfunded and unrelated “nice to do” projects.
  • The campaign objectives should also make sense as part of a larger plan — a well- thought out and well-documented road map that shows exactly how the organization expects to get where it wants to go. These are the kind of plans that typically come as a result of careful strategic planning.
  • Finally, the campaign objectives must be an appropriate focus for private philanthropy. They should make possible services that cannot readily be funded in some other way (from the organization’s reserves, operating revenues, government grants, etc.).  The objectives must present a role for the donor as philanthropic investor and champion.

Raising more money for your organization must include efforts to obtain major gifts, and that requires a Big Idea – the prerequisite for which is a worthwhile project.  The methods you devise to generate major gifts may or may not include a capital campaign to fund a new building, new program, or new endowment, but it must foster inspiration and passion to accomplish your worthwhile project. 

Next week, we’ll further explore how to implement your forward looking worthwhile project in our rapidly changing fundraising marketplace.

Links to previous Road Ahead Blog posts: