Navigating the Road Ahead through Pacesetting Leadership Gifts

People still give to people, but do they still make gifts in consideration of the size of gifts made by others?  In other words, after a donor decides to support an organization, how do they determine how much they will give?  This is where our next element of fundraising success comes in to play.  Successful fundraisers work to influence the donor’s decision on the amount of their donation through the campaign principle and the social awareness of the gifts of others, especially pacesetting leadership gifts.

Pacesetting Leadership Gifts

The strategy of first securing pacesetting leadership gifts to achieve ambitious fundraising campaign goals has been validated time and time again.  Whether your organization has intentionally encouraged it or not, there is a pattern of constituent giving to your organization, and if you are working in a thoughtful and strategic manner to increase the levels of philanthropic support to your organization,  you will also be working to first secure  pacesetting leadership gifts.

Essential Element #6:  Pacesetting leadership gifts

While a major capital campaign — fueled by a Big Idea — presents an unusual opportunity to attract large numbers of donors and generate numerous gifts, experience has proven over and over again that $5 million, for example, can never be raised by asking 1,000 people to give $5,000 each. (Asking for average gifts only leads to disappointment.)  Instead, we must focus our attention and our efforts on the relatively small number of donors who are capable of making the largest investments.

These large, pacesetting leadership gifts must account for one-third to one-half of the campaign goal, or even more, if one hopes to reach a specific,  ambitious dollar goal. The news of these pacesetting leadership gifts, once they are secured, will serve to inspire and raise the sights of all other donors and volunteers; to build the momentum of the campaign; and to create confidence within the campaign organization – as well as the broader community – that the goal is in fact attainable, and success is within reach.

As stated in a previous blog, there must be sufficient financial resources available to your development program. Most importantly, there must be a sufficient number of major gift prospects to initiate campaign activities at a substantial and meaningful level. 

What, then, is that substantial level, and how do leadership gifts lead to ambitious fundraising goals?  That will depend both on your specific goal, the number of likely constituents you have and how you  conduct your campaign and communicate with your constituents.  This is true for major capital campaigns as well as broad-based appeals such as crowdfunding and online peer-to-peer fundraising.

If the fundraising goal were $5 million, for example, it might well be necessary to secure 10 to 12 commitments of $100,000 to $1 million, payable over a multiyear pledge period. To have a reasonable expectation of success it might be necessary to identify 30 or 35 likely potential donors known to be capable of making investments at those levels, and with a sufficient level of interest in your organization.

For this reason, a great deal of time and energy must be devoted to the cultivation and solicitation of prospects for advance and major gifts.  For each of these prospects, a unique strategy must be conceived, planned and executed because every leadership gift is a campaign unto itself.

So, is all this work necessary?  Do donors still make gifts in view of the gifts of others?  That answer is a resounding “yes.”  Consider The Giving Pledge, started by Bill and Melinda Gates and Warren Buffet in 2010 with 40 of the nation’s wealthiest donors pledging to give a majority of their wealth to philanthropy.  This list now exceeds 220 billionaires from across the world.  It certainly seems these billionaires were motivated in part by the very public image of the individuals subscribing to the pledge, and it is logical to assume some choose to join The Giving Pledge based on the gifts of others.  And it’s effective for raising smaller gifts as well, as evidenced by the proliferation of peer-to-peer fundraising platforms that scroll the names of friends and associates on those personal fundraising web pages.

If you are supporting an organization through a peer-to-peer fundraising appeal, you may only have knowledge of the person who enlisted your participation, and you may just be learning about the organization that is being supported.  If you also know the organization, and take an interest to find out if others you know are also supporting the campaign, you may feel compelled to give  a gift that is on par or in excess of what others are giving.

There are forces in the philanthropic marketplace that may limit the effectiveness of building your campaign strategy through pacesetting leadership gifts.  As the nonprofit sector grows, there are more organizations working across wide geographic areas, and donor constituencies may be less cohesive and less aware of other donors, which could diminish the social encouragement established by early leadership donors.  Nonprofit organizations themselves are also working to expand their donor constituencies across increasingly wide areas and through increasingly less personal methods and techniques.  Donors are also becoming more anonymous to organizations through the increasing use of Donor Advised Funds.  While news of a large anonymous gift may give other donors encouragement that a specific project or goal is attainable, the identity of the donor could help even more potential donors to join a campaign.

The importance of pacesetting leadership gifts remains essential today, especially if you are working to attain an ambitious fundraising goal.  Successful fundraisers will continue to enlist early pacesetting leadership gifts from donors who seek to positively impact projects they believe in, for the betterment of their communities, and donors who  want to motivate others to generously support a shared cause.

Links to previous Road Ahead Blog posts: