Is Your Board Hurting Your Major Gifts Program?

Major Gifts Program

Have you ever gotten pushback from your board on the topic of major gifts? Maybe when the topic of asking for a significant gift from a donor comes up at a board meeting, you’ve heard, “Why don’t we just write more grant proposals?” Or, “Instead of starting a major gifts program, let’s hold another event.”

If any of this sounds familiar, I have good news and bad news. First, the bad news… If your board is not game to incorporate major gifts into your organization’s comprehensive fundraising plan, you are in for a struggle.

The good news? There are ways to fix this! Read on for 3 tips to help bring your board around to the idea of starting or ramping up a major gifts program for your nonprofit organization.

1. Share key data

Often board members fail to understand the potential impact that gifts from individuals—particularly major gifts—can have on your organization’s work and mission. While most fundraisers know that the majority of philanthropic donations in the U.S. come from individuals, most folks outside of our profession do not.

To share this information and further educate your board, try administering a “philanthropy quiz” at your next board meeting. One of the questions* can be this:

Here are four sources of private philanthropy. What percentage of total giving comes from each category? The total adds up to 100%.

  • Foundations
  • Corporations
  • Individuals
  • Bequests

After everyone gives it their best shot, you can share the correct answers:

  • Foundations – 15%
  • Corporations – 6%
  • Individuals – 72%
  • Bequests – 7%

You can also share that because bequests come from individuals, as do a portion of foundation gifts (via family foundations), the total of gifts from individuals is approximately 86%.

If your nonprofit’s donor data shows more gifts coming from corporations and/or foundations than from individuals, you have an untapped opportunity at your fingertips.

*This quiz question and others can be found at

2. Find an advocate

Your board will be much more likely to align themselves with a peer, i.e. fellow board member, than with a staff person, whether you are the development director or even the executive director. That’s just how it works.

So use this fact to your advantage. Find one board member who believes in the power of individual giving and is willing to advocate for a major gifts program at board meetings. Then channel your messages through this board advocate.

3. Empower your board

In all likelihood the big reason your board is backing away from major gifts is fear. They are afraid that a major gifts program means they will be tasked with asking donors for big gifts. And, they don’t know how to do this.

“Asking”—as in asking for a donation—is not something with which most people have experience.

But getting your board more comfortable—and even excited about! —asking for donations is not difficult. Heck, you could do this training yourself. That said, I strongly recommend bringing in an outside expert to facilitate a board empowerment workshop, i.e. board training.

Why an outside expert?

It’s well known that outside experts can wield tremendous influence on organizational leadership. It’s part of the reason corporations hire consultants and executives hire business coaches. And why you should consider hiring a nonprofit consultant to plan, direct and facilitate your next board training. There are many consultants who do this type of work. You can read more here about my services in this area.

What is your experience with board members supporting—or not supporting—major gift efforts? Have you brought in an outside expert for board coaching? Please share your thoughts or experience in the Comments box below!

Special gift for you: Conquer Your Fear of Asking for Money, a step-by-step guide, is available here (click)