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Major Gifts are Not Just for Bricks and Mortar — Packaging the Invisibles and the Intangibles

Most of the organizations I have worked with, either as a consultant or as their Director of Development, haven’t had building or equipment needs upon which to base a capital/major gifts effort, but all were able to institute effective major gifts programs.

Institutions with “bricks and mortar” have buildings or other forms of tangible property that donors can see and feel. Think colleges, hospitals, social service centers, land trusts, zoos, museums — you get the picture.

“Bricks and mortar institutions” have a number of built-in advantages when cultivating prospects for major gifts:

  • “Bricks and mortar” is easy to understand — donors can visualize the kids in their classrooms, enjoy the birds and plants at the nature preserve, or appreciate all that extraordinary artwork at the museum;
  • Donors can relate to how expensive it is to buy, build or maintain real estate;
  • “Bricks and mortar” symbolizes permanence and longevity – evoking in donors the belief that their gifts can make a lasting difference because the institution will be around for a long time (if not forever); and,
  • Of course, there are all those naming opportunities to provide donors with permanent public recognition

Even if the major gifts aren’t for bricks, renovations, equipment or land purchase, subconsciously, donors are just more comfortable making major gifts to a nonprofit that feels solid. They like to see their dollars take substantial form.

So, how do you motivate major gifts, when your nonprofit doesn’t have the bricks and mortar?

Create giving opportunities that donors can visualize.

Even if the major gifts aren’t for bricks, renovations, equipment or land purchase, subconsciously, donors are just more comfortable making major gifts to a nonprofit that feels solid. They like to see their dollars take substantial form.

So, how do you motivate major gifts, when your nonprofit doesn’t have the bricks and mortar?

Create giving opportunities that donors can visualize.

If your organization is not involved with or dependent upon physical plant and/or equipment, but is more involved in public policy development, advocacy work, or community-based outreach and education, you’ll need to develop major gift opportunities that FEEL just as solid to donors.

Here’s an example of how one Advocacy organization did it:

Unlike its more well-heeled conservation colleagues, this environmental watchdog group doesn’t own or ever buy land. Instead, its programs include research, development and promotion of environmentally responsible public policy, lobbying at the state legislature, and the thankless task of monitoring hundreds of requests for development, pollution and wetland alterations permits. Staff at the agency have always thought of their work under the general banner of environmental protection.

Fundraising has traditionally depended on membership dues and contributions to special appeals in the range of $25 to $100. Larger funding amounts [“major gifts” is not an appropriate term in this context] have largely been from foundation grants. The organization would not only like to upgrade their lower-end donors to the $500-$1,000 level, it would also like to create opportunities and prospects for substantial giving at $10,000 or more.

In the last two years, the group has become involved in a number of advocacy activities — to prevent the potential purchase and subdivision of thousands of acres of open space by commercial interests. Though it will never buy land, it has been a leader in working with local and state officials to develop legislation to protect open space, recruit and train coalitions of activists, mobilize land purchasing groups and undertake extensive media outreach to alert the general public to the wider threat.

These recent activities presented two great opportunities for developing a major gifts program. By totaling the three-year operating costs of anticipated legal work, public outreach, research, lobbying, policy development and related overhead, it created the Endangered Lands Campaign — with a goal of protecting 137,000 acres of land at a cost of $400,000 over three years.

Second, it realized that it often needed to quickly respond to threats that emerged without warning. Since these quick actions could be costly, the organization created the Rapid Strike Force to respond to these emergencies. Then, to generate required funding, it created the Rapid Strike Fund, a standing fund of $200,000.

Each project provided a new opportunity to mobilize both major donors and special appeals to the larger membership list. Major gifts could be linked to naming opportunities or sub-components of the projects. For example, the largest gift could name the project (The Helen Smith Emergency Strike Force), other named gifts could tie to legal work, volunteer activity or other discrete components of the project.

What, then, are the critical elements of a program-focused, major gift opportunity?

  • A solid-feeling project/program with tangible outcomes that donors can visualize, built by bundling interrelated program activities;
  • A significant fundraising goal worthy of major gifts, built by combining direct program and related overhead costs, often over a multi-year period; and,
  • An Urgency — with a compelling name.

Setting up these projects requires a heaping dose of creativity and the ability to see familiar programs in new ways, and we’d welcome your examples, to share with readers in future issues — we will, of course, include the source….

 

Gayle Gifford

About the Contributor: Gayle Gifford

Gayle L. Gifford, ACFRE, President of Cause & Effect Inc. (R) is an in-demand consultant, popular speaker and provocative writer with over 30-years of nonprofit experience. For Gayle, nonprofits are a commitment to our society to create a more just and peaceful world of hope, beauty, and equal opportunity for all. Check out Gayle’s blog The Butterfly Effect at http://www.ceffect.com/blog.

Gayle helps clients design the internal change that will strengthen their governance, improve their programs and operations, build stronger relationships with their communities, communicate more effectively and boost their revenues. Cause & Effect’s clients are secular and progressive public benefit organizations working in the fields of conservation and the environment, public policy reform, education, community and neighborhood development, housing, civil liberties and civil rights, international development, women and children, the arts, culture and humanities and public health. They range from grassroots groups working in a single neighborhood to international organizations working across dozens of countries. Gayle also works with government agencies interested in more actively engaging their communities in collaborative policy making.

Gayle is author of How to make your board dramatically more effective, starting today published by Emerson & Church. She is also a contributor to You and Your Nonprofit and author of Meaningful Participation: An activist’s guide to collaborative policy-making and co-author of Bringing a Development Director on Board; in the AFP Ready Reference Series. She is a columnist for Contributions Magazine and contributor to CharityChannel newsletters and listserves. Gayle teaches graduate courses in nonprofit administration and organizational change at Simmons College and Brown University. She holds an M.S. in management from Antioch University New England and a B.A. from Clark University. Gayle holds the advanced fundraising credential of ACFRE issued by the Association of Fundraising Professionals (AFP).

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