The prevalent impact of grateful patients and their families on healthcare philanthropy is widely accepted and well documented. Amidst rapid changes to the healthcare industry and the economy at large, grateful patients and families remain important because individual donors are flexible and more resilient to uncertain conditions.

There are key reasons why a grateful patient program is important to your organization:

  • Grateful giving has an added sense of meaning and fulfillment to the patient, creating a situation where the patient and/or the patient’s family feels connected to your institution’s goals and aspirations
  • This kind of program also allows your development team to build a pipeline and a base of loyal supporters
  • The process of creating and implementing a strategy of this nature ultimately gives fundraisers an opportunity to build processes around engagement of defined prospective donors

As fundraisers, we see the impact of philanthropy through the contributions that are gifted to our sectors each year. In 2018, charitable giving in the United States reached $427.71 billion, and 77% of all giving came from individuals through personal contributions and bequests. Healthcare alone received over $40 billion, and it is individuals, grateful patients, and families who are driving this philanthropy. Giving USA and The Association for Healthcare Philanthropy (AHP) confirm that grateful patient fundraising continues to be important in the healthcare subsector as government funding continues to decline.

Because of these factors, the need to develop a more comprehensive system to execute a robust grateful patient program is often top of mind for leaders in this industry. In this article, we lay out the five critical steps to initiating, planning, and sustaining your successful grateful patient program.

Step 1: Create and Assess Your Culture of Philanthropy

This whole process begins with creating and reinforcing a culture of philanthropy within your institution. Enlisting, educating, engaging, and inspiring your community to champion your cause greatly strengthens your organization’s mission and creates a foundation for your program. Every constituent plays an important role in the process, from the president to physicians to volunteers to greeters. They all serve as ambassadors for the organization and must understand their value within one integrated team. Once the organization as a whole firmly supports and embodies a culture of philanthropy, the process of raising funds will work more effectively, and ultimately, the community can have a collective and transformative impact.

Whether your grateful patient program is just getting off the ground, or simply in need of some fine tuning, there is always an opportunity to assess your fundraising landscape with specific objectives. The assessment includes in-person conversations with as many administrators, associates, physicians, nurses, and all other staff as possible centered around their current knowledge of fundraising. Electronic surveys can also be utilized to increase feedback.

The assessment will provide results to help you develop a systematic and sustainable approach to fundraising. It will also help you tailor comprehensive education and training programs to the needs of your constituents, identify and recruit caregiver networks, and establish goals for measuring the success of your grateful giving program.

Following the assessment, critical organizational steps should be taken to ensure that follow-up activity is timely, diligent, and effective. In addition to an overall action plan to reach systematic goals, a grateful patient appeal plan should be created in conjunction with annual giving efforts. As a component of this plan, consider implementing grateful patient mailings on a consistent basis (i.e. every 90 days) so that you can establish expectations for your output.

Finally, once your new or improved grateful patient program is ready to launch, consider revitalizing with new branding which includes look, feel, and materials.

Step 2: Provide Comprehensive Education and Training

The creation of an education and training program for all staff is essential to your grateful patient program. Training centered around solidifying an understanding of the value and process of the program will ultimately give staff a sense of ownership around grateful patient giving. As you begin planning your assessment, it is important to determine core audiences for clinical trainings based on established relationships with clinical staff, patient demographics as they relate to donor potential, and hospital knowledge and expertise. More specific training with gift officers and the development team can be conducted separately as they relate to their individual roles.

One effective way to introduce training opportunities with clinical staff is to schedule “goodwill tours.” These informal conversations don’t need to be more than ten minutes long, but give development staff an opportunity to meet clinical staff at all levels. They can help to establish early momentum and lay the foundation for the more in-depth training that will follow.

Step 3: Establish Goals for Measuring Progress

As you continue to train staff and grow your program, it is important to develop measurable, quantitative goals to track the progress year after year, and to highlight areas for growth or challenges that need to be overcome. Key measurements should be determined for the first two years which should focus on establishing benchmarks and refining strategies. The data collected in each following year should be measured against benchmarks established in years one and two. Specific goals and measurements for gift officers, annual fund, and the stewardship team should also be created in the short term. For example, key measurements could include:

  • Change in number of donors
  • Increase or decrease in dollars raised
  • Potential donors identified by caregivers

It is important to consider how goals will be tracked and measured. Generally, creating systems and reports in a donor database is best practice, but each organization should consider what works for their individual situation.

Step 4: Identify and Recruit Caregiver Networks

Caregiver networks are groups of clinical partners who advocate for the organization and help to identify potential donors from their patient base. Creating a caregiver network or leadership council comprised of a small group of clinical leaders can allow your institution to test ideas and remain focused on the mission. These individuals should be:

  • Leaders among peers
  • Respected within the organization
  • Open to partnering with the foundation
  • Represented by specific service lines identified by foundation leadership for involvement

The leadership council can also serve as a stewardship group who can be asked to initiate strategic planning conversations with their connections about hospital fundraising efforts and future campaigns. Including the strategic planning conversations as a part of the initial recruitment process of these leaders allows them to see the direct benefit their partnerships with the foundation will have on future fundraising.

Step 5: Organize the System

It is important for any institution to be organized and meet the needs and expectations of staff working on your program. Holding consistent leadership meetings and communicating weekly through staff emails can help provide insight on program developments and timelines. In-person staff meetings provide the opportunity to revisit the work plan and continue building momentum toward your goals.

Communication is an important component throughout the entire process to ensure a smooth and transparent plan. Having a clear and actionable strategy also helps set expectations for all involved.

What Does Success Look Like?

Any organization looking to focus on this type of effort should understand that creating a comprehensive program takes time, and not every success can be shown by dollars raised. If you are diligent in your approach to developing a grateful giving program, however, the following are key signs of a program that is working at its highest capacity:

  • There is a heightened awareness among administration, caregivers, and associates of the importance of philanthropy
  • All constituents show an understanding of fundraising as a core value and shared responsibility
  • You have developed a committed donor base and major gift pipeline
  • There is an organized and seamless way for grateful patients and families with opportunities to give back
  • Patients and families are supporting the people and programs that are making a difference in their lives
  • There is increased revenue to advance the mission of the organization

CCS Fundraising is a strategic fundraising consulting firm that partners with nonprofits for transformational change. Members of the CCS team are highly experienced and knowledgeable across sectors, disciplines, and regions. With offices throughout the United States and the world, our unique, customized approach provides each client with an embedded team member for the duration of the engagement. To access our full suite of perspectives, publications, and reports, visit our insights page. To learn more about CCS Fundraising’s suite of services, click here.

Ten years ago, the U.S. economy was in the depths of the most devastating economic downturn since the Great Depression. The impact was substantial and wide-spread: 8.8 million people lost their jobs, GDP fell more than 4%, and home prices deteriorated by 30%. At the same time, Americans collectively gave less to charities than they had since the 1990s.

Today: the economy has been growing for the past ten years and in 2018 philanthropic giving reached an all-time high, surpassing $427 billion. While the Great Recession may now feel far in the past, there has never been a more pertinent moment for nonprofits to consider what lessons could be learned. With many economists predicting an impending economic downturn, it is crucial to consider how recessions impact philanthropy and what charities can do to best weather a storm.

What are economists predicting?

In recent months, there has been increasing speculation that an economic downturn is coming. A survey by Duke University Fuqua School of Business shows that 82% of US CFOs believe a recession will have begun by the end of 2020. With strong memories of the Great Recession firmly fixed in the minds of Americans, there is no doubt that signs of an impending downturn have stirred anxiety in nonprofit leaders who rely on philanthropic support to operate. But there is no need to approach the future with uncertainty. Understanding how recessions have impacted charities in the past can shine light on what to expect and, more importantly, what to do now to prepare.

How did the Great Recession impact giving?

The immense generosity of Americans has stayed fairly consistent through good and bad times. According to the five-year CAF World Giving Index, the U.S. ranks second among all countries in giving behavior, with 62% of respondents indicating they donate to charity. Furthermore, in four of the seven recessions highlighted by The Stanford Center on Poverty and Inequality, seen in the chart below, giving continued to increase, albeit sometimes at a slower rate than in non-recession years.

Figure – Russell Sage Foundation and The Stanford Center on Poverty and Inequality: Charitable Giving and the Great Recession

However, despite the resiliency of Americans during tough economic times, the Great Recession’s deep and widespread impact left many people giving less. Giving decreased by 3.7% in 2008 and then 8.3% in 2009. Much of this drop can be attributed to declines in giving by the wealthiest Americans. As reported by the New York Times, from 2006 to 2014, “[t]he share of income donated to charity by Americans who earned $200,000 or more decreased by 4.6 percent.”

While these decreases surely impacted many nonprofits, it is important to note that the decline was short-lived and did not impact everyone. According to the Center for High Impact Philanthropy at The University of Pennsylvania, “[a]s our economy has bounced back from the recession, so has philanthropy, and at a much faster rate than experts predicted: giving in 2014 rose to $358.4 billion, surpassing pre-recession rates.” Further, some charities actually performed better in the recession. Nonprofits who address poverty-related causes were often targeted by philanthropists who saw increased need for services throughout their communities. For instance, in a study by The Russell Sage Foundation and The Stanford Center on Poverty and Inequality, “total funding to food banks in 40 cities rose by…31.9% from 2008 to 2009.” Additionally, foundation grants toward areas with the highest unemployment increased from 19% of funds awarded in 2008 to 65% in 2009.

What can nonprofits do to prepare?

In the midst of a recession, many leaders may have the urge to retreat by decreasing contact with prospects and delaying the implementation of new initiatives. Rather than reacting, CCS Fundraising has had success working with leaders across nonprofit sectors to be pro-active: by developing a multi-year strategic plan now and sticking to it, nonprofits can prepare for any storm to come.

When preparing a strategic plan in preparation for economic uncertainty, consider the following approaches:

  • Clearly reaffirm the organization’s mission: strategic plans ensure a renewed effort to clarify the organization’s mission. Further, the purpose your organization serves does not go away when the economy suffers (in fact, the need may very well increase) and your mission and vision should remain firm.
  • Start talking about the strategic plan now: ensure your donors and friends know that a multi-year plan is in place and get their buy-in on ensuring the plan succeeds. In the event of an economic downturn, your supporters will know that your vision and mission still apply and that the needs still exist.
  • Double-down on outreach to donors and friends: even before signs of slower fundraising growth, plan to increase outreach with the intention of sharing the organization’s mission, impact, and need.
  • Include volunteer leaders in the planning: by letting them know you are proactively planning and seeking their feedback on strategy and messaging, you will reinforce their commitment to the organization no matter the status of a recession.

While there has not been a substantial link established between economic recessions and a decline in charitable giving, talk of an impending downturn can leave leaders anxious about the future. And whether or not the economic predictions come true, any nonprofit can take steps now to secure the future. By clarifying the mission, expanding outreach, and being transparent, nonprofits can ensure greater success in any economic climate.

CCS Fundraising is a strategic fundraising consulting firm that partners with nonprofits for transformational change. Members of the CCS team are highly experienced and knowledgeable across sectors, disciplines, and regions. With offices throughout the United States and the world, our unique, customized approach provides each client with an embedded team member for the duration of the engagement. To access our full suite of perspectives, publications, and reports, visit our insights page. To learn more about CCS Fundraising’s suite of services, click here.

Many parishes opt for a campaign when considering capital projects or debt reduction, but often become intimidated by the tremendous needs and the equally tremendous goals associated with such an endeavor. CCS Fundraising always recommends doing a thorough analysis to assess the feasibility of a capital campaign before deciding whether to move forward in that direction. If your conclusion is that your parish is not ready for a large or extensive campaign, it would be wise to consider an alternative approach: conducting a campaign to increase weekly collections.

Like most charities, operational funding in churches often comes from annual giving. To keep up with inflation and growing expenses, such as maintenance, compensation, and benefits, it is vital that churches also grow donor giving over time. An increased offertory campaign can help begin that process.

Many religious denominations have used pledging and annual stewardship drives for years and, as a result, encourage their members to grow their giving regularly. But what about those churches (especially Catholic parishes) that haven’t developed such programs?

CCS’s experience shows that Catholic churches (and even entire archdioceses and dioceses) are more often turning to increased offertory programs to overcome financial challenges and fulfill unmet needs. These programs can be easy to implement and can help you accomplish the following:

  • Educating parishioners on the need to be responsible stewards of the gift that is their church
  • Commencing discussions regarding the importance of increasing giving annually to keep up with growing expenses
  • Getting more parishioners involved as volunteers
  • Starting a pattern of written commitments that can aid in real-time budgeting
  • Addressing real financial needs in a fair approach that doesn’t negatively impact a parish’s ability to run a campaign at a later date

These programs are indeed easier to run than a traditional capital campaign, and can often be completed in a period of seven weeks. They have also proven to be very effective. Through our work in this sector around the world, CCS has found our tailored increased offertory programs to elevate parish giving as much as 25% with sustained levels of increased giving during the years that follow our engagement. When combined with broad implementation of electronic giving by parishioners, these increases can be “locked in” and generate a steady stream of additional revenue for the parish.

Over the past eight years, CCS has helped parishes conduct over 100 increased offertory programs. These programs engaged 900 volunteers, and saw more than 6,500 commitment forms returned. Parishes gained an average 20% increase in giving, ending with a projected $3.5 million increase in annual offertory. Some parishes even experienced an increase that approaches capital campaign results when calculated over five years.

Just as important as the results, however, is the cost. Most of these increased offertory campaigns saw a complete return on their investment after just five weeks of increased collections.

The key to generating the highest response and keeping the costs low is volunteers. A well run program will take advantage of every communication channel a parish has to offer: the bulletin, the pulpit, mail, email, social media, and the personal contacts made by parishioners. These contacts need not be solicitations, but rather a personal reminder to respond and a testimonial about why the parish is so important to them. These personal contacts help reduce the number of mailings needed in the program and have been proven to generate higher rates of commitment.

When planning an increased offertory program, it is important to have a very clear sense of what you hope to achieve. In addition to increased financial support, an increased offertory program should focus on achieving the following key objectives for the parish:

  • Identification of parish strengths, weaknesses, opportunities, and threats
  • Increased understanding of the principles of stewards by the clergy and laity
  • Development of ongoing educational and faith formation opportunities
  • Parishioner commitments of time, talent, and treasure
  • More active involvement of parishioners in parish and diocesan life
  • Growth in Mass attendance
  • Upsurge in registration
  • Increased giving
  • Development and implementation of a plan for ongoing commitment to the principles of stewardship

In the end, however, the ultimate objective of an increased offertory program is changing the pattern of giving. At the conclusion of each program, CCS offers parish leaders training on conducting annual renewals of these commitments. Permanent change in parishioner giving behavior is only possible through regular attention and communication. It takes some work, but as any “stewardship parish” will attest, the process becomes automatic and expected by parishioners after a few years.

As an additional benefit, conducting an increased offertory program will not impact your parish’s ability to conduct a capital campaign in the near future – in fact, the process may help get you closer to campaign readiness.

So, when a campaign seems out of reach, or maybe you just need another year before starting one, consider an increased offertory program. The results speak for themselves.

CCS Fundraising is a strategic fundraising consulting firm that partners with nonprofits for transformational change. Members of the CCS team are highly experienced and knowledgeable across sectors, disciplines, and regions. With offices throughout the United States and the world, our unique, customized approach provides each client with an embedded team member for the duration of the engagement. To access our full suite of perspectives, publications, and reports, visit our insights page. To learn more about CCS Fundraising’s suite of services, click here.

In light of the recent publication of the Snapshot of Today’s Philanthropic Landscape, which contains data from Giving USA and other sources, several CCS Fundraising executives hosted a webinar to discuss the changing landscape of charitable giving in the US, and what organizations can do to prepare for the future. In this post, we recap some of the highlights of this presentation. The full recording can be accessed here.

How Did the Landscape Change?

Americans once again broke record by donating $427.71 billion to nonprofit organizations across the country and internationally. At the same time, giving from individuals decreased slightly to 68 percent of the total, which in 2017 was 70 percent. This change, coupled with concerns about the 2017 Tax Cuts and Jobs Act, led to increased speculation that 2018 was a challenging year for philanthropy.

However, nothing could be further from the truth. On average, $1.1 billion was given for each day of 2018, which goes to show the enduring generosity of Americans. In fact, 2018 was a year of leveling off after the unusually high giving in the previous year. During the fourth quarter of 2017, charitable giving saw a tremendous increase, likely due to uncertainty surrounding the potential impact of the incoming tax law. This contributed to the already significant total, and led to 2017 being such a banner year for philanthropy.

As for where the funds are going, there were no significant changes in 2018. The top five sectors remain: religion, education, human services, foundations, and healthcare. But while the main priorities of Americans have not changed greatly, there were some minor shifts that could point to further change. The sectors that saw the largest increase were international causes and environmental/animal causes. This could be an indication of a larger presence of younger donors, as these causes tend to be more popular with younger generations. Other sectors saw flat growth or even declines, but this could simply be a result of donors doubling down in 2017 and now returning to previous levels of giving.

Current Unique Trends in Giving

Donor Demographics

From 2000 to 2014, giving decreased in every age group, which supports the overall trend that there are fewer donors giving to fewer organizations, but they are increasing the funds they give to those organizations. 83 percent of total giving is coming from 20 percent of the population, and only 1 percent of the population is providing 49 percent of total giving. This highlights the influence that high net worth donors have, as well as the need to create strategies around developing and maintaining relationships with them.

The Impact of Volunteers

Volunteering remains a great stewardship practice, as 80 percent of volunteers also donate. Gaining volunteers is a reliable method to not only acquire donors, but to also retain them, since they have experienced the impact of your mission. This is particularly important because volunteer rates went up nearly 24 percent between 2016 and 2018. From serving on a board to operating a food bank, there has been a general increase in volunteer activity across all generations.

A Shift in Giving Vehicles

A noteworthy change in 2018 was that, while individual giving decreased, giving by foundations saw a significant increase. Part of the reason for this is that major donors and high net worth individuals are directing more of their giving into vehicles like donor-advised funds and private family foundations. Giving to donor-advised funds alone has more than doubled between 2009 and 2016, and many speculate that the trend will increase. But there is reason for optimism here, because while the sources of giving may be shifting, the overall total is still rising. This means that the giving decisions are still being made by those major donors that so many organizations hope to reach and inspire.

Strategies and Takeaways

In closing, here are some things to keep in mind, both when you evaluate your organization now, and when you plan for your organization’s future.

  • Relationships are very important, maybe now more than ever, to create meaningful engagement and to invite investment. Organizations can be overly reliant on mass communication methods without supplementing that approach with the one on one discussions that can make the difference.
  • If the majority of your support is coming from large donors who are aging, consider preparing for the future. What may be needed is support from more families who are mid-tier donors now, but could become large donors later in their lives.
  • Efficiency is an important metric for trust. Donors demand transparency, and presenting the efficiency of your organization is one way to gain that trust. Donors are increasingly sophisticated and should be treated in a way that respects their interest and time.
  • Now is the time to make your case and ensure that your organization is at the top of your donors’ list of priorities. In order to achieve this, it is paramount that you find meaningful ways for donors to experience your mission.

It’s competitive out there, so put effort into the things you can control: making donors feel like they made a difference by thanking them and being transparent with them. Make sure they understand your organization’s vision and how their gift affects the mission.

To access the webinar, “Reflections on Today’s Philanthropic Landscape,” click here.

CCS Fundraising is a strategic fundraising consulting firm that partners with nonprofits for transformational change. Members of the CCS team are highly experienced and knowledgeable across sectors, disciplines, and regions. With offices throughout the United States and the world, our unique, customized approach provides each client with an embedded team member for the duration of the engagement. To access our full suite of perspectives, publications, and reports, visit our insights page. To learn more about CCS Fundraising’s suite of services, click here.

It is more important than ever to recognize the different communities and cultures who make up our Catholic Family. Communicating your vision and creating unity among these communities can be a challenge and oftentimes daunting. So how can a fundraiser help guide a parish through these cultural differences and nuances to create an effective stewardship plan that connects to each demographic making up a parish? Successful strategies have been deployed by using three basic, but important principles: Listen, Learn, and Link. Listen to interests and challenges, learn about philanthropy in other countries and cultures, and link the two together to form a tailored and customized stewardship plan.


The most effective fundraisers are the best listeners. Before designing any stewardship plan, crafting any messaging, or even interviewing any parishioners, it is necessary to listen to and observe each diverse community. The first step is to simply attend a parish council or town hall meeting to hear the challenges, interests, and top-of-mind issues being discussed. This helps you gain a better understanding of their priorities so that your messaging reflects their specific needs.

As one example of what can be gleaned from listening, at a recent town hall meeting at a predominately Hispanic parish, each presenter—one diocesan employee and one campaign team member—would pause after every sentence to hand the microphone to the Hispanic pastor for translation. By observing these interactions and listening to how the pastor communicated in Spanish, it became apparent how much trust the group of parishioners placed in the pastor because of his sensitivity to their needs.

Observing this interaction also revealed how the group reacted to specific parish topics and communication preferences. Having this knowledge helped greatly when designing the campaign plan around its different elements. It also gave the case depth and credibility because it considered the challenges and top-level issues of the community. In the end, this uniquely tailored fundraising plan went on to serve as the baseline plan for each Hispanic parish in the surrounding area.

Another way to listen is to schedule one-on-one meetings with pastors, asking how different ethnicities within the parish typically contribute. For example, a Vietnamese pastor once mentioned how his community is a very generous and loyal parishioner group, but they tend to give collectively; rarely as individuals. Another priest mentioned that his Hispanic parishioners typically host events—such as their annual fiesta—to raise money collectively and then donate those proceeds to church causes. Listening and interacting on the ground prior to any campaign planning is most beneficial to understanding what communities are accustomed to and what strategies have been successful in the past.


Philanthropy and stewardship is understood and practiced differently across the globe; however, by identifying particular methods and habits, and educating everyone on both the differences and similarities, common ground can be achieved. After listening to and observing a community, the next step is to conduct thorough research. Learn how Colombians support their church in their home country versus how Mexicans support their church. Learn how European priests are accustomed to parishioners making key business or managerial decisions for the parish as opposed to American priests who typically guide these decisions. Find out if parishioners are willing to sign pledges or prefer to give directly. Find out how to connect unique ways of giving to include each community in your campaign.

It is also important to note that each community has its own nuances in language and culture. Recognizing that these variations exist can help accelerate collaborative efforts in a campaign plan. Beyond dialect nuances, cultural differences exist as well. For example, a fundraiser must stay informed regarding immigration and what role the local church should play. Due to the current climate, some immigrants may not want to sign a three-year pledge or even use their real name; however, hosting a “Giving Sunday” once a month for the next three years where parishioners are asked to donate one-hour’s pay may resonate in a relatable and realistic way.


Once you have listened and learned about the parishioners’ home-country philanthropy, then it’s time to link the two by discussing with your parish leaders all ideas for reaching

these diverse communities. By having meetings where you connect research with reality, pastors can see firsthand that their parish is valued and that their parishioners’ best interests are being acknowledged and incorporated, generating a mutual respect. As with any fundraising effort, a pastor’s support will make or break any campaign. Having their insight also adds credibility to your campaign plan and opens the door for future collaboration and discussion with other pastors.

For example, when a diverse parish has achieved campaign success through a tailored approach built from listening to the people in the pews, this parish becomes a beacon of hope and a strong example for others with diverse histories and backgrounds to trust the fundraising process. Additionally, clergy can visit the listening and learning sessions of other parishes to build off each other, not only linking a strategy in one parish, but multiple parishes to build better-informed strategies throughout a Diocese.

A bi-product of a comprehensive strategy to reach diverse audiences is a stronger community within an organization. Recognizing that a “one size fits all” approach to fundraising will not work indicates to all stakeholders that cultural differences are recognized, incorporated, and embraced in parish fundraising.

In the end, reaching diverse communities starts with respecting differences. Through this respect, trust can be built and a collaborative plan developed.

Finally, when executing this plan, based on your listening, learning, and linking, you must be open to adapting. With the credibility built and knowledge gained of different cultures, this adaptation or pivoting to find the right approach will only enhance your original fundraising strategy and lead to a more informed design.

And whenever you are stuck, just listen.

CCS is a fundraising consulting firm that partners with nonprofits for transformational change. Members of the CCS team are highly experienced and knowledgeable across sectors, disciplines, and regions. With offices throughout the United States and the world, our unique, customized approach provides each client with an embedded team member for the duration of the engagement. To access our full suite of perspectives, publications, and reports, visit our insights page.

Independent schools often rely heavily on one, large annual event to meet important fundraising goals. While these large-scale events can play an important role in community building, they are often costly and time-consuming. Moreover, by focusing on one event, schools are missing out on opportunities to interact with donors and prospective donors in meaningful ways. School development offices should consider diversifying their event strategies, particularly during campaigns, so that they are tailored to engage donors wherever they are in their philanthropic journeys. By developing events with specific and actionable goals, schools will drive campaign activity at each level of the moves management process and bolster the overall philanthropic health of the school.

Horace Mann School, a Nursery-12, co-ed day school of 1,800 students in Bronx, NY and CCS Fundraising partner since 2015, has had a great deal of success in leveraging different types of events to elevate the performance of both annual and capital fundraising. The School launched an ambitious $100 million campaign to support campus renovations and expansion, with a commitment to maintaining the success of the annual fund over the campaign’s five-year span.  Horace Mann’s creative and targeted approach to events drove campaign giving, while minimizing impact on the annual fund. The following case study of Horace Mann’s work with CCS provides several useful examples of how to utilize four key elements of strategic event planning: education, cultivation, motivation and appreciation.

1) Educate

At the beginning of each school year, Horace Mann holds a new parent Trustee Reception for each of the School’s four divisions. These receptions, hosted by members of the Board of Trustees, serve as an important opportunity for new parents to not only meet one another, but also to learn about the opportunities for philanthropic involvement at the School. Independent schools often act as a young parent’s introduction to the world of philanthropy; it is at their children’s school that parents learn how their charitable dollars can make an impact on a given organization. Particularly for mid-level donors, an independent school is, in many cases, a family’s first major gift recipient. At Horace Mann, these Trustee Receptions are an important crash course in giving.

Setting the Tone

While there should be some discussion of fundraising at these receptions, philanthropy should certainly not be the primary focus. New parent events should be casual and informative, rather than heavy-handed, so that all families, whether they are $25 or $25,000 donors, feel welcome. These events should embody the “un-ask” ask: making a case for philanthropic giving without making a firm solicitation.

While your development team can be helpful with mailing invitations, managing RSVPs, and staffing the gathering, the events themselves should be parent-focused and parent-driven. A parent making an appeal to a fellow parent can be far more meaningful than one from a member of your development staff.

Follow Up

After these events have taken place, it is important to note that the invitations to these receptions and event follow-ups should appear to come not from the Advancement Office or the Head of School, but from the trustee hosts.

For smaller schools with fewer divisions or fewer admission entry points, Kindergarten Breakfasts can be equally effective. Held on campus at several times throughout the beginning of the school year, these small group breakfasts offer Kindergarten parents an opportunity to meet with Trustees and the Head of School in a casual setting. These gatherings, like the trustee receptions, can lay the groundwork for future fundraising conversations, while providing new parents the opportunity to discuss the transition to a new school.

2) Cultivate

Horace Mann also saw a great deal of success with two types of cultivation events during its capital campaign. The first, small group dinners, were particularly effective during the campaign’s quiet phase. These dinners took two different forms. In the campaign’s first two years, CCS and the Development Office worked closely with the Head of School to develop a curated guest list of high-capacity and high-affinity parents. The Head of School extended an invitation via email asking families to join him for a dinner at his home with a few other parents. Similarly to the Trustee Reception, fundraising—in this case the campaign—was not the singular focus of the evening.

Both the Head of School and the Board Chair conducted follow up to these events, ensuring an extremely personal solicitation process. These dinners were crucial in garnering early support for the campaign and for identifying potential campaign leaders.

Maximizing Small Gatherings

As the campaign progressed from the principal and leadership gifts phase to the major gifts phase, these small group dinners were utilized to cultivate top prospects on a grade by grade basis. Members of the Campaign Cabinet invited families they believed could make meaningful gifts and conducted their own outreach prior to the event, supported by CCS and the Development Office. These dinners were held at the Head of School’s home, private homes, or restaurants across New York City. The volunteer leaders said a few words about their involvement in the campaign, followed by an appeal from the Head of School and dinner. The Head of School then sent a brief thank you email to each attendee within the week, but the real work of soliciting fell on the campaign volunteers who hosted the event.

By holding smaller events and conducting individualized follow up, Horace Mann was able to ensure that families were having meaningful conversations with campaign leaders about making stretch gifts and multi-year pledges, rather than one-time, outright gifts.  These conversations also reinforced the prioritization of the annual fund, allowing the School to receive sizable campaign gifts while growing the annual fund each year.

Sustaining Campaign Momentum

Horace Mann’s second style of cultivation event utilized the facilities made possible by the campaign. In the early stage of the campaign’s community phase, the Development Office held a series of Open Houses in the School’s newly added Campus Center. The parties featured a short cocktail reception, followed by a campaign video, an appeal from the Head of School, and brief, small group tours throughout the newly constructed and renovated spaces. The Development Office distributed all invitations and managed the RSVP list, but members of the Campaign Cabinet were responsible for sending personalized emails to each invitee to encourage attendance. These Cabinet members served as the event’s Host Committee, welcoming guests as they arrived, joining tours to provide a parent perspective, and sending thank you emails after the event.

The Open Houses simultaneously promoted campaign participation, but also reinforced the importance of the annual fund. Only donors who had already committed to the annual fund at a certain level were invited to these Open Houses. By segmenting the invitation lists, Horace Mann was able to engage prospective mid-level campaign donors, who were committed givers to the annual fund, in large groups. Like the small group dinners held during the quiet phase, the school maximized prospective donors’ contact with the Development Office and Campaign Volunteers to promote multi-year pledges.

3) Motivate

Two of Horace Mann’s most successful events celebrated the campaign’s success and the achievement of important milestones. These large-scale, donor-only receptions were held not only to steward important campaign donors, but also to motivate prospective donors to make meaningful commitments prior to the events. By using invitations to these “exclusive” events as incentives to give, Horace Mann saw significant increases in the number of gifts as well as dollars raised in the months leading up to these two parties. Campaign leaders set internal fundraising goals prior to both events, raising the sights of the campaign volunteers and creating a sense of urgency. On both occasions, the campaign exceeded the internal goals by over $1 million.

Heightening the Importance of Events

The first of these events was a Beam Signing Celebration during the campaign’s quiet phase. Guests heard from the Head of School, Chair of the Board of Trustees, and the campaign’s lead donors, after which all campaign donors were invited to leave their mark on one of the beams that would eventually support the new facilities. Though invitations were distributed only to campaign donors, additional excitement about the event was drummed up at the School’s cultivation dinners and in the campaign leadership’s conversations with prospective donors. This push to drive activity prior to the event was so successful that the campaign received 38 gifts totaling $2.5 million in less than a month, a significant increase over the 11 gifts totaling $845,000 received during the previous month.

The second event, a Hard Hat Tour, was equally successful, raising $3.5 million from 28 donors in the four weeks before the event. The Hard Hat Tour, like the Beam Signing Celebration, had an element of exclusivity that encouraged participation at increased levels. While there was no minimum gift amount required to be invited to these events, both CCS and the Development Office at Horace Mann were pleasantly surprised by how eager families were to make personally significant gifts to the Campaign. Moreover, given the parties’ construction-related themes, both events demonstrated the impact of donors’ philanthropic dollars in a tangible way.

4) Appreciate

Finally, each fundraising event at Horace Mann, whether for the capital campaign or annual fund, demonstrated the School’s appreciation for its donors, volunteers, and trustees. The small group dinners held during the quiet and major gifts phases, as well as the Open House events, empowered trustees, campaign volunteers, and donors to further engage in the campaign process by giving them leadership roles. The School’s large-scale celebrations gave leadership donors a moment to shine, while also acknowledging the generosity of each person in the room, regardless of the size of their gifts. Furthermore, each donor was always sent home with several pieces of campaign-themed gear as an additional thank you and a reminder of their participation in the campaign.

Sustaining a Successful Future

These opportunities for stewardship ensure a donor’s continued engagement with the School for years to come and, in fact, can serve as important cultivation opportunities for future fundraising efforts or for existing initiatives. Horace Mann held a Ribbon Cutting Ceremony in October of 2018 to officially commemorate the opening of the School’s new facilities. Donors watched a short video of the impact the building was already having on students, faculty, and staff, and then were allowed to walk through the spaces independently. Ten donors who attended the event were so moved by the program and by the facilities that they increased their campaign pledges, with one family doubling their commitment. No gesture of stewardship is too small.

CCS Fundraising is a strategic consulting firm that partners with nonprofits for transformational change. To access our full suite of perspectives, publications, and reports, visit our insights page.

Since the publication of “Making Big Bets for Social Change” in Stanford Social Innovation Review just over three years ago, the topic of “big bet” philanthropy has been making headlines.

According to The Bridgespan Group, a big bet is an individual or foundation grant of $10 million or more made to a single organization or cause seeking to drive social change. These gifts have an extraordinary effect on organizations’ ability to expand their reach, improve the quality of their impact, strengthen their infrastructure, and deploy more resources in service of their mission.

Historically, most gifts of this magnitude were directed at traditional institutional recipients such as universities, hospitals, and large cultural institutions. With their robust development operations and compelling recognition opportunities such as named physical spaces and endowed chairs, these institutions regularly and effectively cultivate, solicit, and steward 8- and 9-figure gifts.

Yet with the rapid growth in wealth over the last two decades, we have experienced unprecedented levels of giving and a stronger commitment to bettering society, with an increasing number of big bets being made to support human services, environmental, and international development organizations. For example, in 2017, U.S. giving surpassed the $400 billion mark for the first time ever.[1] At the same time, the number of donors who made gifts of $25 million or more to social change organizations grew to 69, a significant jump from just 18 in 2000.[2]

The philanthropic landscape is ripe for big bets. Today, we stand at a pivotal moment in the history of philanthropy, as donors contemplate the impact that large-scale charitable investments can have on solving or dramatically improving persistent social problems.

So, what makes an organization “big bettable,” and how can organizations position themselves to secure significant eight and nine-figure investments in service of their mission?

In “Becoming Big Bettable,” William Foster, Gail Perreault, and Bradley Seaman discuss how a significant infusion of capital can transform an organization’s growth trajectory by dramatically scaling its resources, programs, and services. This positions the organization to take bigger, bolder steps to achieve its vital mission—from improving access to quality water to eradicating world hunger.

The key element of a big bet is an ambitious, measurable goal that demonstrates the specific results that can be achieved—and scaled—and that reflects the demand from communities, partners, policymakers, and other major stakeholders.

While the goal will typically be accomplished over a 5- to 10-year period, it will have enduring impact. Oftentimes, it occupies the “missing middle” that is more concrete than a long-term vision and more ambitious than a short-term goal. [3] Equally as important, the goal should matter not only to your organization, but also to society at large. How will your community, country, or even the world become a more just and inclusive place because of this bold investment?

At CCS, we have partnered with nonprofit leaders to tackle some of society’s greatest challenges. We have seen the extraordinary impact that big bets can have. And we know that accomplishing lofty goals requires allocating commensurate resources.                                                                                                              

By developing a compelling investment concept with a clear and measurable goal, a strategic plan to get there, and a well-articulated role for philanthropy, your organization may be able to increase its opportunities of securing big bets and deploying them with distinctive impact. This, in turn, creates the potential for transformative social change.

Below are three steps your organization can take to position itself as big bet ready:

1) Identify a Societal Challenge that Demands Action and Innovation

“Big bettable” concepts address the core of some of society’s most persistent social challenges and are ripe for immediate action. What is the macro challenge your organization is trying to solve and how will a critical cash infusion scale the solution right now?

Since 1913, the Anti-Defamation League (ADL) has fought to stop the defamation of the Jewish people and to secure justice and fair treatment to all. ADL remains on the frontlines against hate today through its anti-bias education and law enforcement training programs as well as grassroots advocacy to build a more civil society.

Today’s external environment demands a stronger ADL. In 2017, ADL reported a 57% surge in anti-Semitic incidents in the U.S.—the largest single-year increase on record since ADL started tracking such data in 1979.[4] This was compounded by the prolific volume of anti-Semitic and hateful content on social media platforms, where 4.2 million anti-Semitic tweets were shared or reshared in 2017.[5] At the same time, extremist activity made national headlines, from the 2017 Unite the Right rally in Charlottesville, VA, to the horrific massacre at the Tree of Life Synagogue in Pittsburgh, PA, one year later.

From local schools to the halls of government to C-suites at Fortune 500 companies, society was crying out for a stronger, more innovative and impactful ADL. Yet the demand for ADL’s voice and expertise significantly outpaced its ability to deliver.

In order to best position your organization as big bettable, try to establish the urgent necessity of your mission in addressing specific issues, and the potential consequences of not rising to meet these issues, especially if they are of an escalating nature.

2) Develop an Ambitious, Measurable Goal with Enduring Impact

When donors bet big, it is because they are presented with an opportunity at an order of magnitude different from what they have been offered before—an investment concept that allows them to see the tangible possibility of enduring change in a distinctive way.[6]

Since his appointment as CEO of ADL in July 2015, Jonathan Greenblatt has applied his business acumen and entrepreneurial spirit to transform ADL—a 100+ year old institution—into a more innovative, impactful organization fighting anti-Semitism and all forms of hate on the frontlines.

In just a few years, Jonathan has built a best-in-class executive team with experts from the corporate, government, academic, and nonprofit sectors; revamped the organization’s governance structure from an over 300-member National Commission to a highly curated 16-person Board of Directors; and invested in measurement and evaluation to bolster ADL’s operational effectiveness. He also launched a fresh brand into the marketplace to ensure that ADL resonates not only with the organization’s stalwart supporters, but also with the next generation of leaders, advocates, and social entrepreneurs. And he’s just getting started!

Bold leaders dream big—and they bet big. They take a step back from the immediate organizational needs to consider the entire field they are trying to shift and inspire others to join them. “We stand at a pivotal moment in ADL’s history and a pivotal moment in our country’s history,” Greenblatt says. “We are making critical investments in our future to more effectively combat anti-Semitism and get ahead of the next technological trends to spread hate, including cyberhate.”

Greenblatt seeks to achieve this vision through transformational investments in ADL’s tools, talent, and technology. These growth capital investments will build critically needed capacity to measure and scale ADL’s education and advocacy programs to fight hate on the frontlines, pioneer cutting-edge tools to monitor and expose hate crimes and extremist threats with unrivaled efficiency and magnitude—on the ground and in our 24/7 digital environment, and develop technological and policy interventions to reduce the volume and impact of cyberhate.

ADL is an organization in transformation, and the deliberate steps that Greenblatt and his team have taken have positioned ADL to become “big bettable.” Through significant investments that build on its 100+ year record of success, ADL is poised to make critical strides in the fight against anti-Semitism and hate and create a more just and inclusive society.

When thinking about your organization’s goals, think about a new, lofty opportunity that is larger in scale and scope than what you’ve previously aimed to achieve and that builds on your past success. Be bold in sharing how big bet investments in your vision will dramatically change the status quo.

3) Inspire Donors to Bet Big on Your Vision

When donors consider making an exceptionally large investment, they generally want to do more than fund good work. They want to create change that solves or significantly improves a large-scale problem. The key to securing a big bet will rest on your ability to articulate why philanthropy is the missing ingredient for execution.

Big bets usually build on existing relationships. When Bridgespan analyzed a sample of 165 grants of $10 million or more from its big bets databases (gifts from U.S.-based donors to a social change organization or cause between 2000 and 2012), they found that the big bet recipients received a median of four previous grants from the donor prior to the big bet.

What does this mean for your organization? If a donor has given many times and at significant levels, chances are strong that he or she believes deeply in your mission and the people involved and may be poised to make a big bet. While it may not be a requirement to have a long relationship involving multiple gifts with every big bet donor, it is important to be patient and to play the long-game.

As fundraisers, we know that at the heart of any meaningful investment is a donor’s steadfast belief in the mission of the organization and trust in the CEO and his or her vision. To inspire donors to make the leap from a major gift to a big bet, organizations must emphasize the specific outcomes the donor’s investment will have, and how these outcomes will catapult the organization to a higher level of impact—but for this big bet, we would not have the resources or capabilities to achieve XYZ. It takes time and discipline, but the results are worth it!

For many donors, a big bet investment may be the single most consequential philanthropic commitment they make in their lifetime. Be bold and think big about the innovative and scalable solutions you seek to address society’s toughest challenges together.

CCS Fundraising is a strategic consulting firm that partners with nonprofits for transformational change. To access our full suite of perspectives, publications, and reports, visit our insights page.

[1] Snapshot of Today’s Philanthropic Landscape, 2018

[2] Unleashing Philanthropy’s Big Bets for Social Change, Introduction, 2019

[3] Unleashing Philanthropy’s Big Bets for Social Change, Becoming Big Bettable, 2019

[4] ADL Audit of Anti-Semitic Incidents, 2017

[5] Quantifying Hate: A Year of Anti-Semitism on Twitter, ADL, 2018

[6] Unleashing Philanthropy’s Big Bets for Social Change, Becoming Big Bettable, 2019

Six degrees of separation is the idea that “friend of a friend” statements can be made to connect any two people in a maximum of six steps. Put into practice, the “Six Degrees of Kevin Bacon” game was invented as a play on the concept. Fun and addictive, the favorite past time demonstrates just how small the world of Hollywood really is. In fundraising, the world of qualified prospects and your organization’s connections to them is even smaller.

So often, organizations face pipeline challenges because of difficulty re-engaging lapsed donors or difficulty gaining access to new prospects. Relationship mapping can help resolve these challenges by matching your organization’s prospects with the personal and professional networks of your organization’s board leadership. As a result, your board can become instrumental in facilitating introductions, cultivating prospects, and, ultimately, moving prospects towards the ask.

To achieve success with relationship mapping, follow these simple, yet strategic, steps:

  1. Research your prospects
  2. Engage a task force/ad-hoc committee
  3. Map your relationships
  4. Select viable connections
  5. Make connections
  6. Build relationships

Step 1: Research Your Prospects

To ensure your list of prospects is well-qualified, it’s important to do your research. Gather information on both new prospects and lapsed donors, including giving capacity, giving history to your organization (if any), and area of interest/alignment. Completing this research in advance will ensure that the prospects you map are qualified and will increase the likelihood of a successful introduction.

Step 2: Engage a Task Force

Recruit a handful of well-connected board members to assist you with your prospect pipeline project by serving as a member of an ad hoc committee or task force. Five to seven members will keep the group manageable. An ideal task force member is one who is connected in multiple sectors (casting the widest net of connections), serves in an executive role (providing access to the most influential people), and is not overcommitted (ensuring they have the time and interest to help). Select a member to chair the task force – someone who will lead by example and serve as an encouraging and motivational peer. As with all initiatives, be sure to inform your committee of the scope of assistance needed for the project upfront. Schedule monthly calls with the committee to check in on progress and provide updates.

Step 3: Map Your Relationships

Relationship mapping, or, identifying likely connections between two people, takes the guess work out of list vetting. Instead of asking board members, “Do you know anyone on this list?” mapping relationships allows you to say, “We think you know this prospect. Can you confirm?” Tools like Muckety and Relationship Science are invaluable for identifying not just who your board members may know on your prospect list, but specifically how they know them.

Step 4: Select Viable Connections

After mapping all possible connections between your committee and your prospects, review the individualized list of potential connections with each committee member and identify, first, connections that are viable, and, second, prospects that the committee member is willing to engage to make an introduction. A viable connection is one in which the committee member confirms they do, in fact, know the prospect. Since you have already done the research to qualify the prospect as having both affinity for your cause and capacity to give (Step 1), there is a strong likelihood the prospect will be open to an introduction, particularly from a familiar face.

Step 5: Make Introductions

Provide each committee member with a call strategy sheet for each prospect they agree to connect with. Conduct a briefing call with each committee member to reiterate that the purpose of their outreach to the prospect is to simply facilitate an introduction to your organization’s internal leadership, not to pitch a project or campaign. Provide each committee member with a timeframe to complete the calls and ask them to take notes on their calls so that they can report back to the committee during the next scheduled group call.

Step 6: Build Relationships

Once the introductions to your internal leadership have been made, follow up with your prospects promptly to schedule your first introductory meeting so you can begin the cultivation process.

Follow these simple, yet strategic steps and your organization is sure to reap the benefits of engaged board members, a qualified prospect pipeline, and the new gifts that will follow from a successful game of “Six Degrees of Cultivation.”

CCS Fundraising is a strategic consulting firm that partners with nonprofits for transformational change. To access our full suite of perspectives, publications, and reports, visit our insights page.

Big gifts – the kind of transformative philanthropic commitments that can positively redirect the trajectory of a program, project, or even an entire organization – are the types of gifts that many development professionals don’t just dream about but strategize for months or years to secure. Enormous amounts of discovery, cultivation, and solicitation go into inviting and – if everything goes right – ultimately formalizing these major gifts. While the time, human capital, and other resources needed to arrive at the pivotal point of receiving a transformative gift are of course necessary, what happens after the gift is in the door is just as, or even more critical to ensuring continued fundraising success and meaningful donor partnerships.

Game-changing gifts mean something different for every organization and vary depending on a nonprofit’s annual budget and fundraising goals. Regardless of whether an organization considers a cornerstone commitment $25,000 or $25 million, the core fundamentals of properly stewarding the gift and leveraging its impact remain the same. When leadership fully realizes and embraces the extraordinary opportunity that significant philanthropic commitments yield, they can then use the momentum from the gift to heighten their overall fundraising performance while simultaneously deepening their partnership with the donor. Failure to maximize this opportunity can result in a poorly executed stewardship plan and a missed shot to take the organization’s culture of philanthropy to an entirely new level.

If your organization is privileged to be the recipient of a significant philanthropic investment, consider keeping the following tips top of mind for effectively managing transformative gifts.

Build a Comprehensive and Timely Stewardship Plan

Too often, stewardship is an afterthought – something that is only given attention after a donor has signed a check. Waiting until the last minute to develop a stewardship plan runs the risk of lacking meaning, customization, and alignment to your donor’s investment as well as his/her preferences for engagement and receiving information post-commitment.

It is worth noting here that while development staff should not delay the crafting of a stewardship plan, it is also important to not jump the gun either, especially if the latter leans on false assumptions that a donor’s gift is a given before a request for support has been extended. In addition to the potentially inaccurate presumptions that a premature stewardship plan might depend on, it is a mistake to rush into a solicitation and hurriedly move into the stewardship stage without sound strategy, adequate timing and, most critical, a robust understanding of what is important to your donor. Moving ahead without these elements goes against a key principle of the donor engagement process – developing a tailored stewardship plan that is equally thoughtful and effective.

Instead, throughout the Moves Management process, development staff should continuously gather information from early discovery and cultivation stages to inform customized stewardship touchpoints when appropriate. Relying on this information underscores the importance of maintaining detailed contact reports that can be easily referenced as needed. As the prospective donor continues to grow his/her affinity for and connection to your organization, and a gift decision appears to be on the horizon, outlining a proposed stewardship roadmap that can be adjusted as applicable will help you and your team stay one step ahead.

When developing a stewardship plan, keep in mind basic elements, including how your donor prefers to receive impact updates and reports, and how frequently. Is your donor’s gift helping to launch a new initiative that will require an advisory council or some other leadership body? If so, know how to properly engage your donor in that manner. Recognize that personalized stewardship opportunities can also double as cultivation toward continued and/or increased future support from the donor. With that said, it is imperative to adequately thank your donor and show substantive impact before asking for another gift too soon.

While these stewardship tips have applications to gifts of all sizes, they carry significant weight when a transformative gift is at play. Donors of transformative gifts are becoming increasingly savvy and sophisticated, and failing to effectively engage them in how their gift is being put to work severely diminishes their gift experience. At its core, sound stewardship is the hallmark of a high-performing, donor-centered fundraising operation.

Consider Your Donor a Partner

Expanding on the importance of tailored and purposeful stewardship, it is critical to acknowledge and celebrate the donor-organization relationship for what it is – a partnership. High-level donors are not merely check signatories nor should their connection to a nonprofit be viewed as transactional; rather, it should be considered nothing less than relational.

There are numerous ways to keep your donor close post-gift that can lead to an enhanced experience for them to enjoy as well as greater opportunities to amplify the gift’s ripple effect throughout your organization. As you report impact to your donor, ask questions, invite feedback, and do so with sincerity, rather than asking for input to simply check a box on your stewardship to-do list. Your donor has good ideas and a valuable perspective to offer; lean into these opportunities to meaningfully engage your donor and amplify the gift’s impact on a specific project or program.

Asking for feedback can be as simple as getting their thoughts on the color scheme for a new program brochure or the cover page of your quarterly newsletter. In addition, your donor’s feedback does not need to be asked for in a vacuum. For example, although they directed their gift toward your new after-school creative arts program, think about whether they have also demonstrated interest in other programs that might have overlap. With respect to their expressed interest areas and the amount of time you are asking of them, think about whether there is a reasonable opportunity to engage them in feedback sessions related to complimentary initiatives. Could their participation in this type of conversation generate impact beyond where their gift was originally allocated?

Further, take stock of how you can leverage your relationship with your donor to create new ones. Inviting your donor to open doors to his/her network can inspire new philanthropy from peers who otherwise may not have been connected to your organization’s important work. Sharing stories of personal giving is a surefire way to, at the very least, get other prospective high-level donors thinking about how they can be a part of your organization’s legacy. Tactfully tapping into your donor’s network can yield many additional returns, including a more robust roster of leadership candidates who can offer sound advice, a deeper prospective donor pipeline, and increased meaningful contact activity for your development staff.

Think of your big donors as insiders, keep them close, and maximize all opportunities to expand their impact beyond the dollar signs.

Explore Opportunities for Organization-Wide Impact

Big gifts have big impact, and oftentimes that impact is confined to a specific initiative within an organization – naming a new wellness center or endowing a scholarship fund for first-generation students, for example. But the impact of a big gift does not need to be limited in scope. If leveraged effectively, the impact of a big gift can reverberate beyond its designation while keeping the donor’s intentions front and center.

Maybe there is a smaller-scale program that has been sustaining thanks to annual operational support but would have the opportunity to thrive if wrapped into the larger initiative your donor is helping to fund. Brainstorm how other programs not directly supported by the gift can indirectly benefit from the momentum the philanthropic investment creates.

Particularly in situations where the big gift is truly a transformational catalyst, it is wise to inventory how the organization on a broad scale can be leveraged as a result. Perhaps this once-in-a-generation commitment can serve as the anchor gift to a larger fundraising endeavor such as a campaign where other organizational initiatives would also stand to benefit. As the Chronicle of Philanthropy recently pointed out, single big gifts tend to not only inspire others to raise their own philanthropic sights, but can also result in positive trends related to long-term increased annual and major gift support overall.

In summary, big gifts are called transformative for a reason. They ignite the opportunity for significant impact and change that can only be achieved through the power of philanthropy. The transformative gift is the seat of the stool, but without an effective stewardship plan, thoughtful follow-up strategies, and smart program design serving as the legs, the gift’s potential for impact is minimized. As fundraisers, we must remember to adequately and thoughtfully facilitate the positive influence that transformative gifts can have for our emerging program initiatives, our organization’s operations, and our overall culture of philanthropy.

CCS is a strategic fundraising consulting firm that partners with nonprofits for transformational change. To access our full suite of perspectives, publications, and reports, visit our insights page.

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