How Large is a Major Gift?

Deciding what size of gift constitutes “major” is the first step for any organization beginning a major gifts fundraising program. The definition of a major gift has a few universal components that apply to all nonprofits, and a few customized components that depend on your organization.

Across the board

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  • A major gift is a donation large enough to help an organization make significant progress toward reaching its fundraising goal.

  • The term “major gift” usually applies to gifts from individual donors. Most nonprofits don’t include foundation and corporate donors when they talk about major gifts, although there are certainly similarities across all three donor categories.

  • Major gifts are relationship-based gifts. They involve cultivation, research, face time with donors, probably a face-to-face ask and careful stewardship. They are not transactional gifts.

  • A major gift might be given today, or established as a planned gift (to be received by an organization in the future).

For your organization

A major gift is any gift over a certain meaningful amount. The “meaningful” threshold is different for every organization. For a community-based women’s shelter, it might be $2,000. For a large, prestigious university, it might be $1 million.

To determine what amount constitutes a major gift for your organization, turn to your donor database. Run a report of gifts received from individual donors during the past 3 years and sort these gifts from largest to smallest. Usually you can spot dollar amounts where donations seem to cluster. Define your major gift as the dollar amount at the upper end of your list. It should be large enough that only a relative handful of donors are giving at this level but not so high that just one or two of your donors are currently giving, or have the capacity to give, gifts of this size.

There are no hard and fast rules for defining your organization’s major gift amount. As with fundraising in general, defining a major gift for your organization is part art and part science. There are no “wrong answers” – you’re not chiseling this figure in stone for all eternity! You can adjust your definition of a major gift for your organization as circumstances change and evolve, and as you learn more about your donors’ capacity.

What constitutes a major gift for your organization? Tell us in the comments box how you went about defining it.

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