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Articles > Fundraising Ideas > The round up on 'Think Big: Major giving for smaller organisations'

The round up on 'Think Big: Major giving for smaller organisations'

The top takeaways from Paul Dennett, Development Director at Queenwood School on major giving

Major giving can feel challenging in smaller organisations; there can be misconceptions of needing a large pipeline of leads to pull off major giving which many schools or nonprofits may struggle to achieve. However, major gift work is essential for organisations that are serious about generating additional revenue: research shows that the 2 biggest gifts will account for 40-60% of the overall total raised. Paul Dennett, Development Director at Queenwood School, Sydney, shared his top tips for getting started with major giving, and how to employ tactics used at larger organisations to your own fundraising. 

The positives to starting major giving in a smaller organisation

In a smaller organisation, it can be easier to stay on top of what’s going on, not only within your own development office, but across the school. This gives you a wider vision of potential events and projects to involve your major giving prospects in. It’s also possible to wield a greater influence over the culture in a smaller organisation, which can be particularly useful if your school does not have an established history of philanthropy and you are introducing this. 

In addition, it’s likely that you will have better access to senior leadership; this is essential to bring senior team members on side with development, and help them to understand the aims and strategy that you will be undertaking. Working in a smaller organisation gives you a greater scope to be nimble and swift in responding to donor interests and new opportunities, a particularly important quality for major gift fundraising. Finally, major gifts will be clearly transformational in smaller organisations, incentivising donors and colleagues alike. 

However, smaller organisations usually have a smaller budget, and a smaller team. You may also have fewer funding needs and opportunities, making it difficult to match donor interests and timings. Smaller organisations may need to exercise more caution over their reputation when fundraising due to the smaller donor pool, leaving fewer prospects available if something were to go wrong.

The seven step model for major gift fundraising

A seven step model is often used to track progress towards major gifts and the donor pipeline of major donors. Below are some questions to ask and tips for each stage to ensure that you prioritise your efforts towards the most viable prospects.

1) Identify

Who has the wealth/connection to make a major gift? Who is philanthropic?

2) Research

How much do they currently give? Do they like to have their name displayed or are they private? What are their hobbies/interests? How could you find interesting ways to engage with them?

3) Plan

How much could you raise from this person? Over what timeframe could this person donate? Will these donations be for a specific cause or unrestricted? Who within the organisation do they already have a relationship with? When do you think the ask could happen?

4) Cultivate

How to implement the plan and start the lead-up to the ask. 

5) Ask

Make sure that the time is right to make the ask. 

6) Close

This can take quite a bit longer, and can involve multiple stakeholders - e.g. a major gift for bursaries may involve the head of admissions. This step can include the criteria for the gift, the feedback expected by the donor and what level of engagement the donor will have with the gift.

7) Steward

Ensure to thank your donor and continue to cultivate the relationship.

Where to start with identifying major giving prospects?

One of the most difficult parts of starting fresh with major giving is identifying your prospect pool. Start by reviewing any existing donors and screening your database as a first point-of-call. You can also ask colleagues, teaching staff and other members of the school community whether they have any recommendations. In a smaller team, it may be wise to outsource this task to a consultant.  

Top tips to make major giving a success

Manage your time: it’s the big gifts that count

As well as focusing time on your donors in the lead-up to the ask, ensure you set aside time to thank those donors afterwards and continue to steward the relationship. 

Build understanding internally and manage expectations

Major gifts can feel like a step outside the comfort zone for many schools and organisations, so invest time to educate and manage expectations of how major gifts will impact your fundraising and how key stakeholders can help progress these.

Invest in a good CRM and database

Major gift fundraising relies heavily on the information you are able to hold on potential donors, from engagement to demographic data. Data can show what their interests are, what their employment history is, and will give you an insight into why they might donate. When this information is stored in a clean database and integrated with your CRM, you’re already on the right track!

Consider a feasibility study

If you are just starting to plan your major giving strategy, a feasibility study can help you understand and set expectations of what will be possible based on your donor base, find out whether your case for support is resonating and how to improve, and take forward your relationship with key prospects by asking them to consider how their philanthropy can help your organisation. 


ToucanTech supports schools and nonprofits with a smart all-in-one system that makes it simple to bring in prospects, establish relationships and retain donors. 

To find out how you can minimise your admin workload and achieve your major fundraising goals, request an intro from the ToucanTech team

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