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Design Your Program - Research and Goal Setting

Where should our major giving program begin? How should we define "major giving," at least at the outset? Is our station ready to undertake a major giving program? Who will help us?

Here are some recommended ways to answer these questions through research and to then set some initial revenue goals, so that management, board, and leadership volunteers will be able to measure the success of their efforts.

Topics of Interest
Topics of Interest

Research Your Potential

An important first step is to assess the opportunities within your current program and existing giving standards within your community.

Within your program:

  • Examine the annual giving levels of your top ten contributors. If asked correctly, what might they be capable of giving annually? This may give you an idea of where to establish the initial top end of your annual program.
  • What might these same donors be capable of giving if they were asked to invest in a special project that provided a community benefit? (One estimate is twenty times the level of consistent annual giving.) This may help your station recognize the true potential of your major giving program and begin thinking more strategically about its future service.
  • Consider those contributors who give just below the level of these top ten donors. What motivates their giving? How long have they been doing so? What is their potential?
  • Do all or most of your board members give at a substantial level? If not, this is the place to begin. If you have no board — if your governance is a university, state agency, etc. — consider where you will find volunteer leadership.
  • Are some of your higher-level donors potential leadership volunteers? If so, you may have the nucleus of a volunteer committee to assist you in major giving.
  • How are your internal systems? Is your data management program up to the task of managing relationships, rather than just gifts? Is your support staff donor-aware? Are you comfortable that you could effectively steward gifts of substance? If not, you'll want to do some preparatory work before beginning.

Within your community:

  • Examine how comparable organizations define their major giving levels. If other organizations consider a major gift to be $500 or so — as is the case in some smaller communities — have a conversation with your top donors before setting a higher standard at your. (There's nothing wrong with being the first in your community to ask for more .) If a more typical major annual gift is $1,500, as is true in many larger communities, setting a lower level may send the message that you are somehow worth less.
  • What sort of benefits do these organizations offer at different levels? What sort of events do they conduct for major gift activity? Can you develop a similar structure that fits your station? Where you cannot match a benefit, such as attending open rehearsals of a ballet company, can you develop a comparable opportunity within your mission? (Ideas include invitations to private screenings of local documentaries, attending program tapings, etc.)
  • Are there individuals involved with your station who also serve as board members or leadership volunteers at other organizations?
  • Who makes gifts of substance to other organizations and gives lesser amounts to you on a regular basis?

This research will give you a sense of your readiness for major giving, ideas on how to structure your program, and a list of possible resources.

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Setting Revenue Goals

As the manager of major giving, you will be asked:

  • How much can you raise?
  • How much more can you raise?

Since many of your prospects for major giving will already be in the membership database, it is worth examining current annual giving by giving levels. Membership has its own donor pyramid (see sidebar for definition). Using a giving-levels pyramid allows you to narrow the preliminary prospect list to a manageable size.

Once you have your prospect list, use the Budget Projection Tool (MS Excel file, 70KB) to help set revenue goals based on the following activities:

  • Upgrading members to major giving levels. Once you know the number of members and the amount of revenue generated by each of the giving levels in membership, you can set goals based on how many people from each level you can upgrade to the major giving levels.
  • Increasing member contributions. Sometimes it is not possible to inspire donors to upgrade an entire level, but they may increase their contribution by some significant amount.
  • Tracking actual revenue against projection. Since you will most likely be evaluated based on the revenues you generate, it is important to track actual revenues against projection. Some people like to see the variance by percentages against projection, others by actual dollars versus projection. The Budget Projection Tool presents this information in both ways.

Remember, this is only a starting point for major annual giving. The true potential of major giving lies in one-time gifts for special projects and campaigns and, unltimately, planned gifts. Go to the Expand Your Program section.

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Budget Projection Tool (MS Excel File, 70KB)

John Morris,
Vice President for Development, WTVP