Important Considerations for Establishing Major Gift Metrics

By John T. Keith, J.D., Consultant, Johnson, Grossnickle and Associates

Fundraising success is increasingly a vital component of an organization’s ability to fulfill its mission.  Campaigns have increased in prevalence and frequency and often are dependent upon 90% of the dollars being contributed by 10% of the donors.  (In higher education, this can reach 95% of the dollars from 5% of the donors, a threshold nearly unheard of 15 years ago.) This leads many organizations to rely upon major gift fundraising at all times, rather than merely for special projects of need.

At the same time, it has become more common for board members to have backgrounds in businesses that foster a sales culture and therefore look for data-driven accountability from the nonprofits they support.  How can we modernize our approach to goal-setting and accountability without sacrificing what makes philanthropy so different from sales transactions?

The art of fundraising focuses on fostering support for your mission by developing relationships with donors and aligning their philanthropic goals with organizational needs. Yet, in philanthropy it is important that we focus on both the art and science of fundraising by tracking the metrics behind those relationships.

Here are a few things to consider as you explore incorporating metrics into your major gift program.

Determine the purpose of your metrics

First things first.  Do you intend to set minimum standards for major gift officers below which they will be considered to have failed?  Or, do you intend to use the metrics as a way to set a higher bar that helps to identify the top performers?  In other words, are these metrics meant to be a carrot or a stick?  Although I would typically recommend an environment based on positive reinforcement, there are some organizations that might benefit from setting a clear standard of minimum performance. What is most important is that everyone understands this context in advance and that the metrics are designed to fit their stated purpose.

Make metrics realistic

Several years ago, I participated in a survey of frontline fundraisers who worked at a few dozen large colleges and universities.  At the conclusion of the study, the results were shared with those of us who participated.  Each college or university had a slightly different target for substantive contact/personal visit metrics.  Yet, according to the survey results, each university had zero frontline fundraisers who actually met the stated standard.  Is it possible that all of the fundraisers at all of these universities were failures?  I don’t think so.  My personal observation is that there was a disconnect between the perception of fundraising activities by senior leaders/board members of these institutions and the realities of the work. The goals were more likely to have been set in the context of the former rather than the latter.  Would we permit campaign goals to be determined this way?  Hopefully not!  Make sure your metrics are reasonable and strategic, not “impressive.”

One size does not fit all

Determining appropriate goals for a major gift officer must be calibrated to the specific work of that officer.  Is the fundraiser a new hire who is to build a new portfolio of relationships for the organization?  Has the officer inherited an existing portfolio of well-cultivated relationships?  Or, has the MGO been with the organization for several years and already developed a number of strong relationships?  Is the fundraiser a Director of Development with program and/or staff management responsibilities or is she focusing entirely on major gift donor and prospect relationships?

Setting the exact same metrics for each major gift officer is rarely appropriate.  For an officer who will build a new portfolio, place greater emphasis in the first year on the goal for personal visits and minimize (or eliminate) the goals for proposals and dollars raised.  In that officer’s second and third years with an established portfolio of relationships, then it is more appropriate to incorporate goals related to proposals and dollars.

Some organizations, particularly those with larger teams of frontline fundraisers, manage these differences by using an adjustable scorecard.  For example, each officer has a goal of “scoring” 50 points in the fiscal year but the mixture of points earned for different tasks is weighted differently depending on context.

Metrics do not equal management

Metrics can and should be a useful tool for managing and evaluating a major gift program.  However, having metrics in place should be a beginning and not an end.  As the term “metrics” has become increasingly common  in the nonprofit sector over the past decade, its usage has in some cases become a synonym for “management”.  It isn’t.  Those who are supervising major gift officers often also have their own portfolios of major gift relationships to manage.  Perhaps they achieved the management position specifically because they have been successful fundraisers and have little management experience.  For some it may be difficult to resist the temptation to remain externally focused and they therefore rely on the metrics to take care of everything else.

To maximize the performance of the team and each individual, it is crucial to maintain regular communication about each fundraiser’s portfolio, specific prospect situations/challenges, and progress toward annual goals. Metrics should not be subjected to an annual check-up like a wellness exam, they need to be frequently revisited and reviewed.

Avoid unintended consequences

If metrics aren’t set correctly, there can be unintended consequences. For instance, as the fiscal year draws to a close, it is possible that a major gift officer who has had a successful year and has already met his or her goals might perceive an incentive to defer certain donor conversations to enhance performance in the next fiscal year.

Having goals and a culture of accountability should not mean that an organization has abandoned donor-centered fundraising that is based on relationship-building activities.  An organization should not want its major gift officers to feel an incentive to “shotgun” proposals at prospects when it is too early and also should not want to encourage delay.  The only way to ensure there is no misunderstanding on these points is to have frequent and honest communication between officer and supervisor about the officer’s pipeline and top prospects.  An officer should feel comfortable raising this issue and the organization should be flexible enough with the metrics to allow a gift to occur naturally. In this example, if it is happening near the end of a fiscal year, perhaps allow it to be measured in the following year.  If this happens with regularity rather than as an exception, then the goal may be set a little too low.  Either way, communication is the key.

If you’d like to learn more about establishing major gift metrics and explore best practices, I encourage you to watch a recording of our recent webinar for an in-depth discussion on the subject.

And, here are some additional resources on major gifts you may find useful:


Next Level Donors: Three Strategies to Inspire Annual Donors to Give More

Ryan McCarvillBy Ryan McCarvill, Content Manager, iWave

Congratulations!  You secured another $10,000 gift from longtime donor, Jane Smith.  Years ago, you worked hard to solicit Jane’s first major gift to your organization.  And now it only takes a few touchpoints during the year to secure the same gift amount year over year.  In fact, when you met Jane for lunch last week she already had a signed check in her hand.  Easy, right?

Hold on just one second!  Your research team discovered via Jane’s charitable giving history that she’s giving $25,000 gifts to other organizations in your region.

Now you’re wondering if you’re doing something wrong.  How could Jane give larger gifts to other nonprofits when she seems to love your organization’s cause so much?  It’s time to get to the bottom of this mystery.

Mary Richter, a New York fundraising consultant, wrote on the iWave blog: “Data analysis and prospect research are vital to the growth of an annual fund.  A typical annual fund maxes out at $5 million.  However, most organizations operate annual funds under $3 million.  This means minor increases in giving make a huge difference in your overall growth.”

Bottom line? If your nonprofit’s annual fund isn’t growing, it’s shrinking.  Here are three strategies you can use to encourage current donors to give more year over year.

Show Appreciation and Gift Impact

Philanthropists like Jane have no interest in simply giving their money away.  Jane sees her donations as impact investments she hopes will effect positive changes with causes aligning with her passion.  If Jane starts to doubt the impact of her donation, she will be far less likely to give at the same level (or give at all) the next time you touch base.

While it may sound like a simple or even trivial measure, saying “thank you” is a powerful method of recognizing the donor and highlighting the importance of their contribution.  Educate donors on the great strides your organization is making thanks to those critical fundraising dollars.  Where are those dollars allocated?  Can you share any stories of people your organization has helped or milestones you have achieved?  Transparency and sincerity are key.

We all love a good story, especially in the current news climate.  Share news about your wins from last year: relationships with new or top donors, fundraising milestones, and successful events.  Most importantly, think how your mission has impacted your community.

Quantify your organization’s contribution measured against donation dollars.  Combine this with a qualitative approach: interview donors, board members, volunteers, and everyone impacted by your mission.  Then, create a story (or several stories) using all this information.  You might tell your organization’s story as a written case study, email newsletter, infographic, social media posts, or a video.  Telling your story is a great way to thank donors, boost morale among staff and volunteers, and inspire others to give.

Ask For Help (Not Just Money)

Let’s step back for a moment.  Jane could have completely valid reasons for not increasing her gift over time.  In your conversations with Jane, she has always shown great interest in your organization and its mission.  Maybe other opportunities exist for Jane to contribute that don’t involve dollars and cents.  After all, many wealthy individuals consider time more valuable than money.

Maybe Jane would make a great volunteer or board member.  Your research team is busy building profiles on other donors, so it’s up to you to collect some fundraising intelligence on Jane.

Fundraising intelligence is critical when considering new board members.  You may learn that Jane has no board experience or interest in taking on any leadership roles.  Thankfully, you learn she has served on the boards of three other nonprofits, not to mention on the board of her own company.  Clearly she has nonprofit knowledge and leadership expertise.

Remember to keep Jane’s core competencies in mind.  As an investment firm manager, maybe she could help elevate your donor advised funds efforts.  Her experience at other organizations could bring fresh ideas to how your nonprofit works towards its goals.  Every board should be a group of like-minded people who bring individual perspectives and unique skills to the table. Consider this article on how to build a strong board of directors for your nonprofit.

Generate a New Prospect Score

So far, two of the three strategies involve elements of fundraising intelligence.  The third strategy is to consider Jane Smith’s donor potential with fresh eyes.  Specifically, this means collecting and synthesizing new information about Jane’s wealth and philanthropic activity.

You soon learn there hasn’t been a deep dive into Jane’s donor profile in over two years.  Considering Jane is contributing larger gifts elsewhere, maybe you can learn why by refreshing the ratings attached to her profile.

Several ways exist  to find new information about current donors.  You might start from scratch and search for your donor across your fundraising intelligence platform to see what new records you can find.

An easier (and recommended) method is to simply check your prospect rating settings and refresh the prospect score.  Refreshing the score triggers the system to search for any new records related to Jane’s name and profile.  Maybe she divested a large amount of stock in the last two years, which means she’s now able to contribute larger gifts.  Or maybe she’s choosing  to contribute larger gifts to fewer organizations.  You won’t know until you score!

Another method to consider is a wealth screen.  Jane might be one of fifty or five hundred annual donors who could use some updated profiles.  Try running a wealth screen that also searches for philanthropic indicators like propensity to give and affinity to your cause.  As well, look for a wealth screen solution that includes an RFM (recency-frequency-monetary) score that analyzes and ranks a donor’s giving to your organization.

Inspire Growth by Inviting Donors to Join Your Mission

Jane is contributing larger gifts to other organizations, but that doesn’t necessarily mean your relationship with her is on the rocks.  It does warrant research, consideration, and outreach though. Maybe there’s a way to further involve Jane with your organization?   After all, fundraising isn’t just about soliciting one major gift after another.  It’s about fostering a sense of community and common purpose among donors and all stakeholders.

Remember to take the time to proactively understand Jane’s personal circumstances and philanthropic goals year over year, rather than whenever you receive concerning news.    In this way, you may inspire her to increase her donation.  It may be a small increase, though small increases add up over time. After all, it’s these increases which take donors and your organization’s annual fund to the next level.

By Ryan McCarvill, Content Manager, iWave

An In-Depth Look at Giving USA for 2018 Purchasers

LIVE WEBINAR: An In-Depth Look at Giving USA for 2018 Purchasers
July 23
12:00 – 1:30 PM EDT

Purchasers will receive an email to register

Exclusive to purchasers of Giving USA 2018 products (Digital Package, PaperBack Package or PowerPoint), this July 23 Webinar presentation will feature Giving USA experts, explaining the important findings from this year’s report and what they mean for the future of fundraising and philanthropy. Attendees will have the opportunity to ask questions during the presentation.

Experts include Rick Dunham, Chair of Giving USA Foundation and Founder and CEO of Dunham+Company, Una Osili, Director of Research at Indiana University Lilly Family School of Philanthropy, and Laura MacDonald, CFRE, Chair of the Giving USA Editorial Review Board and President of Benefactor Group.

The webinar will be moderated by Rachel Hutchisson, Chair of The Giving Institute and Vice President, Corporate Citizenship & Philanthropy, at Blackbaud.

This webinar is hosted by Giving USA Foundation in partnership with Blackbaud and Indiana University Lilly Family School of Philanthropy, and sponsored by CCS Fundraising and DonorPerfect.

Giving USA 2018: Americans Gave $410.02 Billion to Charity in 2017, Crossing the $400 Billion Mark for the First Time


Stock market, economic conditions helped drive solid growth in contributions across the board

GUSA 2018 ReportCHICAGO [June 12, 2018]— Powered by a booming stock market and a strong economy, charitable giving by American individuals, bequests, foundations and corporations to U.S. charities surged to an estimated $410.02 billion in 2017, according to Giving USA 2018: The Annual Report on Philanthropy for the Year 2017, released today.

Giving exceeded $400 billion in a single year for the first time, increasing 5.2 percent (3.0 percent adjusted for inflation) over the revised total of $389.64 contributed in 2016. (Please see below for a more detailed breakdown of the numbers for each philanthropic source and sector.)

Giving USA, the longest-running and most comprehensive report of its kind in America, is published by Giving USA Foundation, a public service initiative of The Giving Institute. It is researched and written by the Indiana University Lilly Family School of Philanthropy at IUPUI.

“Americans’ record-breaking charitable giving in 2017 demonstrates that even in divisive times our commitment to philanthropy is solid. As people have more resources available, they are choosing to use them to make a difference, pushing giving over $400 billion,” said Aggie Sweeney, CFRE, chair of Giving USA Foundation and senior counsel at Campbell & Company. “Contributions went up nearly across the board, signaling that Americans seem to be giving according to their beliefs and interests, which are diverse and wide-ranging.”

Giving from all four sources and giving to all but one of the major types of recipient organizations grew in 2017, driven by economic conditions. While policy developments may have played some role in charitable giving in 2017, most of the effects of the tax policy changes adopted in late December 2017 likely will affect giving in 2018 and beyond.

“The increase in giving in 2017 was generated in part by increases in the stock market, as evidenced by the nearly 20 percent growth in the S&P 500. Investment returns funded multiple very large gifts, most of which were given by individuals to their foundations, including two gifts of $1 billion or more,” said Amir Pasic, Ph.D., the Eugene R. Tempel dean of the Lilly Family School of Philanthropy. “This tells us that some of our most fortunate citizens are using their wealth to make some significant contributions to the common good.”

In addition to the S&P 500, other economic factors, such as personal income and personal consumption, are associated with households’ long-term financial stability and have historically been correlated with giving by individuals. These factors also experienced strong growth in 2017.

Highlights about Charitable Giving by Source

  • Giving by three of the four sources of giving grew 5 percent or more.
  • Giving by individuals represented 70 percent of total giving.
  • Giving by foundations has seen strong growth for the past seven years, according to data provided by the Foundation Center. Its five-year annualized average growth rate of 7.6 percent far exceeds the 4.3 percent annualized average growth rate for total giving.
  • Corporate giving was boosted by $405 million in contributions for relief related to natural and manmade disasters.

 “Donors and funders are becoming ever more sophisticated in their approaches to making gifts as they draw on the increasing availability of new data, new technology and new ideas,” said Rachel Hutchisson, chair of The Giving Institute, and vice president of corporate citizenship and philanthropy for Blackbaud. “We are seeing innovations across the philanthropic sector that are contributing to strong growth in giving, which benefits everyone.”

 The Numbers for 2017 Charitable Giving by Source:

  • Giving by individuals totaled an estimated $286.65 billion, rising 5.2 percent in 2017 (an increase of 3.0 percent, adjusted for inflation).
  • Giving by foundations increased 6.0 percent, to an estimated $66.90 billion in 2017 (an increase of 3.8 percent, adjusted for inflation). Data on foundation giving are provided by the Foundation Center.
  • Giving by bequest totaled an estimated $35.70 billion in 2017, increasing 2.3 percent from 2016 (a 0.2 percent increase, adjusted for inflation).
  • Giving by corporations is estimated to have increased by 8.0 percent in 2017, totaling $20.77 billion (an increase of 5.7 percent, adjusted for inflation).

“Giving to nearly all categories of charities experienced significant growth, and giving to foundations achieved a double-digit growth rate,” said Una Osili, Ph.D., associate dean for research and international programs at the Indiana University Lilly Family School of Philanthropy. “Economic growth contributed to these widespread increases in 2017, and there is heightened interest in the overall economic environment and other factors that can help nonprofits sustain this growth over time.”

Highlights about 2017 Gifts to Charitable Organizations

Charitable subsectors receiving contributions generally experienced strong growth.

  • Giving to foundations saw the largest growth in charitable contributions, increasing 15.5 percent, based on data provided by the Foundation Center. This growth was driven by extraordinarily large gifts by major philanthropists, such as Michael and Susan Dell and Mark Zuckerberg and Priscilla Chan, to their foundations.
  • Giving to eight of the nine major types of recipient organizations increased in 2017.
  • The exception was giving to international affairs organizations, which declined after several years of steady growth. However, giving to this subsector still reached its third-highest level ever recorded.
  • Seven of the nine types of recipient organizations experienced growth of 5 percent or more.

“The broad growth in giving to virtually all charitable subsectors suggests that charities are connecting effectively with their donors and demonstrating their impact and case for support,” said Patrick M. Rooney, Ph.D., executive associate dean for academic affairs at the Lilly Family School of Philanthropy. “While it is too soon to know with certainty how recent policy changes may influence when and how much donors give, what is certain is that cultivating and nurturing strong, ongoing relationships with donors will only become more important as the changes to federal tax policy made at the end of 2017 take effect.”

The Numbers for 2017 Charitable Giving to Recipients:

  • Giving to religion increased 2.9 percent (0.7 percent adjusted for inflation), receiving an estimated $127.37 billion in contributions.
  • Giving to education is estimated to have increased 6.2 percent (4.0 percent adjusted for inflation) to $58.90 billion.
  • Giving to human services increased by an estimated 5.1 percent (2.9 percent adjusted for inflation) totaling $50.06 billion.
  • Giving to foundations is estimated to have increased by 15.5 percent (13.1 percent adjusted for inflation) to $45.89 billion, based on data provided by the Foundation Center.
  • Giving to health organizations is estimated to have increased by 7.3 percent (5.1 percent adjusted for inflation) to $38.27 billion.
  • Giving to public-society benefit organizations increased an estimated 7.8 percent (5.5 percent adjusted for inflation) to $29.59 billion.
  • Giving to arts, culture, and humanities is estimated to have increased 8.7 percent (6.5 percent) to $19.51 billion.
  • Giving to international affairs is estimated to have declined 4.4 percent (6.4 percent adjusted for inflation) to $22.97 billion.
  • Giving to environment and animal organizations is estimated to have increased 7.2 percent (5.0 percent adjusted for inflation) to $11.83 billion.

 In addition, giving to individuals, which is less than 2 percent of total giving, is estimated to have declined 20.7 percent (22.4 percent in inflation-adjusted dollars) in 2017, to $7.87 billion, primarily as a result of an unusually high increase in 2016. The bulk of these donations are in-kind gifts of medications to patients in need, made through the patient assistance programs of pharmaceutical companies’ operating foundations.

Unallocated giving was negative $2.24 billion in 2017. This amount can be considered the difference between giving by source and use in a particular year. It includes the difference between itemized deductions by individuals (and households) carried over from previous years. The tax year in which a gift is claimed by the donor (carried over) and the year when the recipient organization reports it as revenue (the year in which it is received) may be different.



Members of the media can request 40-year data tables that show sources of contributions by year in current and inflation-adjusted dollars, and allocation of gifts by type of recipient category, also in current and inflation-adjusted dollars. Data also are available showing total giving as a percentage of GDP, individual giving as a percentage of disposable income and corporate giving as a percentage of corporate pre-tax profits.

The requested citation for Giving USA is Giving USA 2018: The Annual Report on Philanthropy for the Year 2017, a publication of Giving USA Foundation, 2018, researched and written by the Indiana University Lilly Family School of Philanthropy. Available online at

About Giving USA Foundation

Advancing the research, education and public understanding of philanthropy is the mission of Giving USA Foundation, founded in 1985 by The Giving Institute. Headquartered in Chicago, the Foundation publishes data and trends about charitable giving through its seminal publication, Giving USA, and quarterly reports on topics related to philanthropy. Published since 1956, Giving USA is the longest running, most comprehensive report on philanthropy in America. Read more about Giving USA Foundation’s history, as well as the history of Giving USA and philanthropy in the U.S. in the Giving USA 2015 Spotlight: Celebrating Service to Philanthropy (available as a free download).

About Giving USA

For over 60 years, Giving USA: The Annual Report on Philanthropy in America, has provided comprehensive charitable giving data that are relied on by donors, fundraisers and nonprofit leaders. The research in this annual report estimates all giving to charitable organizations across the United States. Giving USA is a public outreach initiative of Giving USA FoundationTM and is researched and written by the Indiana University Lilly Family School of Philanthropy. Giving USA Foundation, established in 1985 by The Giving Institute, endeavors to advance philanthropy through research and education. Explore Giving USA products and resources, including free highlights of each annual report, at our online store.

About The Giving Institute

The Giving Institute, the parent organization of Giving USA FoundationTM, consists of member organizations that have embraced and embodied the core values of ethics, excellence and leadership in advancing philanthropy. Serving clients of every size and purpose, from local institutions to international organizations, The Giving Institute member organizations embrace the highest ethical standards and maintain a strict code of fair practices. For information on selecting fundraising counsel, visit

How to Obtain Giving USA 2018

Giving USA 2018: The Annual Report on Philanthropy for the Year 2017 will be available for download on June 12 at A complimentary executive summary, Highlights, also will be available on that date.

Customers can select from a number of Giving USA 2018 products, including the full report, available in both digital and paperback formats; a PowerPoint slide deck; data tables; and the free Highlights executive summary.

Giving USA Foundation periodically publishes in-depth reports (Special Reports) on different aspects of charitable giving and fundraising trends. Visit for available topics; prices vary.

About the Indiana University Lilly Family School of Philanthropy

The Indiana University Lilly Family School of Philanthropy at IUPUI is dedicated to improving philanthropy to improve the world by training and empowering students and professionals to be innovators and leaders who create positive and lasting change. The school offers a comprehensive approach to philanthropy through its academic, research, and international programs and through The Fund Raising School, Lake Institute on Faith & Giving and the Women’s Philanthropy Institute. For more information, visit

Giving USA Methodology

Giving USA estimates primarily rely on econometric methods developed by leading researchers in philanthropy and the nonprofit sector and are reviewed and approved by members of the Giving USA Advisory Council on Methodology (ACM). Members of the ACM include research directors from national nonprofit organizations, as well as scholars from such disciplines as economics and public affairs, all of whom are involved in studying philanthropy and the nonprofit sector.

The Indiana University Lilly Family School of Philanthropy prepares all of the estimates in Giving USA for Giving USA Foundation. Giving USA develops estimates for giving by each type of donor (sources) and for recipient organizations categorized by subsectors (uses). Most of Giving USA’s annual estimates are based on econometric analyses and tabulations of tax data, economic indicators and demographics. Data for giving by foundations come from Foundation Center.

Following the same approach used by leading public and private institutions that develop economic statistics, Giving USA researchers update data found within Giving USA each year. This is because current Giving USA estimates are developed before final tax data, some economic indicators and some demographic data are available. The estimates are revised and updated as final versions of these data become available. Final estimates are usually developed two or three years after their initial release.

For more specific details on Giving USA’s methodology, please refer to the “Brief summary of methods” section within Giving USA 2018 or contact the Indiana University Lilly Family School of Philanthropy at or 317-278-8972.

Jump Start Your Nonprofit Feasibility Study: 5 Strategies

By Bob Happy, President, Averill Fundraising Solutions

For nonprofits large and small, feasibility studies are a staple of most of your major fundraising efforts. Whether you’re planning a capital campaign or creating a new annual fundraising plan, conducting a feasibility study is generally seen as a cornerstone of campaign planning.

Yet, although most nonprofits agree on the importance of these studies, not all understand the huge impact they should have on the planning phase of your campaign from the very beginning.

Instead of thinking of feasibility studies as just one rung in the planning phase ladder, it’s time to start treating these projects as planning phases in and of themselves.

When your feasibility studies shape the course of campaign planning from the outset, there’s no limit to what your nonprofit can achieve. In this article, we’ll dive into the ways your nonprofit can jump start the benefits of feasibility studies by incorporating them as a holistic element of the campaign planning process.

Follow these key steps to conduct more dynamic fundraising feasibility studies:

  1. Take a step back and focus on fundraising objectives.
  2. Enlist the expertise of a fundraising consultant.
  3. Build a list of dependable stakeholders.
  4. Have your fundraising consultant lead the study.
  5. Compare expectations to the results of the study.

Ready to change the way your nonprofit’s feasibility studies shape your campaign planning process? Let’s dive into these effective strategies!



Whether your fundraising goals are unclear or your pathway to achieving those goals is undefined, your nonprofit could benefit from revisiting its fundraising strategy.

This is why fundraising feasibility studies are so popular, especially when planning particularly ambitious fundraising campaigns However, revitalizing your fundraising strategy shouldn’t be left to the late stages of your campaign planning phase.

Start addressing cornerstone strategy challenges early on in the campaign planning process by conducting a kind of preliminary feasibility study.

Meet with your staff and board members to complete an informal strategy review to start off your campaign planning period. This way, you’ll have a sense of where your team stands and what issues you’ll want to address later on during your official study and throughout the entire planning process.

You should review the following questions with your team:

  • Where have your past fundraising campaigns and events fallen short? In the past, your team may have struggled to reach your fundraising goal. Or perhaps you ran into difficulty building a robust prospect list. Knowing the core challenges your nonprofit faces is necessary to conducting an effective feasibility study.
  • What improvements need to be made to your fundraising strategy? Before launching into the study, get a sense of where your team members think the bulk of your strategic issues stem from. They may be onto something, or they might be missing bigger issues that have fallen off their radar.
  • How does your nonprofit want to see the campaign play out? Aside from reaching your fundraising goals, what kind of impact does the team want to see at the end of your proposed campaign? This might relate to growing your fundraising capacity, reaching new supporters, or building relationships with corporate sponsors.

Having a general idea of how internal members of your nonprofit feel about your current fundraising strategy will help guide the fundraising feasibility process moving forward.

While this is just a preliminary planning exercise, it can offer useful insights to leverage when conducting the study and planning elements of your proposed campaign.



After conferring with your nonprofit’s staff, the next way to boost the effectiveness of your planning phase is to hire a fundraising consultant to conduct your official feasibility study and oversee the planning period moving forward.

Not only can a fundraising consultant lead the way for a successful fundraising feasibility study, but building a relationship with a consultant at this stage can set your fundraising strategy up for success in the long term.

Whether they help direct your fundraising campaign or offer ad hoc services as the fundraising calendar goes on, you’ll be able to count on having them as a partner to help your team navigate challenges as they arise.

Here’s how your nonprofit should begin a partnership with a fundraising consultant:

  1. First, do your research. Since a partnership with a best-fit fundraising consultant can stand the test of time, conducting extensive research is key. Ask members of other nonprofit organizations if they have any recommendations, and search databases of fundraising consulting firms to build a list of possible partners.
  2. Next, choose a pool of contenders. You’ll want to narrow your list based on factors like experience level, the prestige of the firm, the services they offer, and their general price points. Create a list of around 5-10 fundraising consultants for further research, and then refine this list to just a handful of stand-out options.
  3. Then, reach out to your top choice. At this stage, you’ll extend a Request for Proposal (RFP) to your favorite fundraising consultant. This will introduce the consultant to your organization and call on them to outline how they could enhance your nonprofit’s fundraising efforts.

Bonus! One way a fundraising consultant could help plan your next fundraising campaign is by analyzing your contributor retention strategy. If they find your approach needs a boost, they might prescribe revitalized retention strategies like these suggested by Qgiv.



For your formal fundraising feasibility study to yield meaningful results, you’ll need to carefully choose individuals for your stakeholder interviews. These shouldn’t simply be members of your staff or prospective givers, but a diverse array of dependable individuals.

The stakeholder interview period isn’t just a useful way to learn about how these individuals perceive your proposed annual campaign, capital campaign, or other fundraising project.

Rather, think of it as a useful engagement tool to help strengthen ties between these essential supporters and your nonprofit during campaign planning.

When you bring stakeholders in on the ground floor of your campaign as central elements of the campaign planning process, you can trust that the campaign you plan will be tailor-made for their future support.

To start your official feasibility study interviews off right, work with your consultant to build a list of stakeholders who you’ll invite to be a part of your fundraising feasibility study and the overall campaign planning phase.

Be sure to explain to these individuals the function of the study, their role in it, and how their feedback is necessary to strengthening your organization. Include the following individuals on your stakeholder list.

  • Board members
  • Staff
  • Givers
  • Volunteers
  • Community members
  • Peers at other nonprofits
  • Corporate partners

Once you’ve got a list, your fundraising consultant will draft a set of interview questions. These should get at the heart of how these individuals relate to your cause, what motivates them, and why they’re inspired by your proposed fundraising campaign—or why they’re not.

Bonus! What’s one great way to choose influential stakeholders for your study? Consult giving analytics to get a broad view of who is giving, how much they’re contributing, when they’re inspired to give, and other helpful information.



When the time comes to conduct the formal feasibility study, your fundraising consultant should take the lead. Since they aren’t an internal member of your team, stakeholders will feel more free to offer up feedback than if a staff member ran the interviews.

Additionally, your consultant will feel comfortable asking tough questions of your stakeholders that members of your team may not know how to approach.

During the interview process, your consultant may ask stakeholders questions similar to these:

  • How does the work of this nonprofit influence your day-to-day life?
  • What is your level of involvement with other nonprofit organizations?
  • Does this nonprofit’s mission inspire you?
  • Do you feel the proposed campaign is worthy of your support?
  • Are factors including the fundraising goal and campaign timeline reasonable?
  • Can we count on you to make a gift? Volunteer? Help connect us with other givers?

Once the interviews close out, your consultant will gather the results and take some time to analyze them. This stage should be conducted carefully and may take some time. When the consultant has finished their review, they’ll present their findings to your team.

Bonus! Looking for more fundraising feasibility study questions? Check out Averill Fundraising Solutions’ list of the top fundraising feasibility study questions before you launch your next study. Learn all you need to know to ask the right questions of your stakeholders.



At the end of your fundraising feasibility study, you’ll confer with your consultant and go over their analysis. Additionally, your consultant will outline a series of next steps for your nonprofit that will help address issues that came to light during your feasibility study.

During this stage, ask your team: are these the results we were looking for? How do these findings match up with our initial expectations of how our proposed fundraising plan would perform?

Even though fundraising feasibility studies are among the most common services provided by consultants to nonprofits, all too many organizations hesitate to take effective action once their study concludes.

However, when your nonprofit considers feasibility studies to be an intrinsic part of the campaign planning process, it’s difficult to lose sight of how impactful the results are on your fundraising strategy and proposed campaign.

When the results come in, your team will be better prepared to make the necessary changes because the study itself wasn’t a tacked on, standalone step of the planning process. Rather, since you’ve been addressing the feasibility of your campaign plan from the beginning, you’ll already have an idea of how to take the next steps to prepare for the campaign you envision.

This may mean that your team needs to pause your proposed campaign while you get things in order behind the scenes. Or, you could simply adjust aspects of your plan (like your goals, campaign timeline, data strategy, etc.) to be more realistically achievable.

The bottom line? Ensure that your feasibility study is a fully integrated element of your planning phase and not a cursory element of the campaign planning checklist.

While this may seem like a difficult change to make if your nonprofit is used to considering these studies as discrete steps in the planning process, you’ll be thankful later on when your nonprofit starts building fundraising capacity faster and reaching ambitious goals quicker than ever.

If your nonprofit wants to revolutionize the way you plan fundraising campaigns, changing your approach to fundraising feasibility studies is a must.

By integrating your feasibility early on during the campaign planning period (rather than at the tail end of it), you’ll get more out of the campaign planning process and hit more fundraising bullseyes than ever before!

About the Author 

Bob Happy brings nearly 35 years of experience providing expert leadership and direction to clients across the not-for-profit sector to his current role as President of Averill Solutions. Before forming Averill Solutions, Bob served as the Executive Vice President and Chief Operating Officer of the nation’s largest fundraising firm. He has mentored hundreds of professional fundraising practitioners and many have joined him at Averill Fundraising Solutions.

6 Facts to Learn About Your Fundraising Event Attendees


By Sarah Tedesco, Executive Vice President, DonorSearch

Tracking just a handful of useful metrics at your events will help refine nearly every aspect of how your nonprofit interacts with its supporters. Your fundraising events can and should serve multiple purposes!

Most importantly, this includes identifying prospective major donors within your list of registered attendees. You already work to develop relationships with prospects, but you should constantly strive to streamline the identification process.

After all, prospect identification can be time-consuming process without some smart guidelines in place. Focus on these data points to sharpen your accuracy:

  1. History of charitable giving
  2. Political contribution history
  3. Preferred communication channels
  4. Participation with other nonprofits
  5. Professional history and network
  6. Other wealth indicators

Your fundraising events represent major learning opportunities. Refine your prospect identification by researching or soliciting important information about your attendees!

As one of the most important metrics in donor prospecting, giving history is a surefire way to identify individuals with the proven desire and ability to support nonprofits. 

There are two effective strategies for screening your event attendees for this data:

  • Use a prospect research database to identify the giving histories of your attendees beforehand.
  • Use a prospect generator tool to search donor lists of nonprofits with missions similar to your own. Cross-reference these to identify attendees and prospects who will seriously support your mission.

Check out our prospect generator tips on the DonorSearch blog for more ways to use these tools!

As often overlooked but extremely valuable metric, political contributions indicate a prospect’s willingness to financially back up their values.

Build your prospecting strategies around political contributions if your nonprofit:

  • Is starting a capital campaign for a major project.
  • Is deeply cause-based and/or socially conscious.
  • Has explicitly stated political positions.

This metric gives you a fuller sense of prospects as individuals. You already know what causes move them, but what social or political issues motivate them, too?

Political contribution history isn’t data that you’d typically solicit from event attendees, but there are search tools and prospecting services that can help.

Knowing the best way to contact a prospective donor goes a long way to developing that relationship in the future. Try to collect this information from all of your donors and registered event attendees.

They might prefer to be contacted via:

  • Email
  • Direct mail
  • Phone calls
  • Text message
  • In person at meetings or events

You can also analyze your records to identify communication methods that generate the most responses.

Remember, communicating with prospects in a way that doesn’t work for them can mean they’ll miss your message or even feel pestered. 

Participation in nonprofit activities is a great indicator of an individual’s willingness to provide greater support because it reveals commitment beyond writing a check.

Ask your attendees to provide some information, and look for indicators like these:

Use this information to quickly identify individuals who have the time and desire to support your work 

Plus, your prospect might already have connections with another nonprofit with which you’ve partnered in the past!

Researching the professional histories of any attendees who prove themselves to be particularly generous is a smart move.

This will reveal some useful information about your prospects, including:

  • Rough giving potential. A prospect’s line of work and job titles can roughly indicate their giving potential and help to immediately focus your research.
  • Potential for corporate support. Generous donors who work for generous companies are a huge opportunity for nonprofits. Check out 360MatchPro’s rundown of top corporate philanthropy programsfor more info!
  • Networks and connections. Maybe a current donor and your new prospect were colleagues in the past. Finding human connections is a great development strategy.

These insights can make a crucial difference as you begin to narrow down your prospect list and focus your efforts after a major fundraising event.

Traditional indicators of wealth are always useful, although rising costs of living in major cities have required some strategy adjustments to make up for inflated markets.

Some dependable wealth marketers to research about your prominent attendees include:

  • Real estate
  • Business ownership
  • Major physical assets
  • Financial investments

These indicators are great for gauging more than giving potential, too. 

An individual who owns a large home and a business with its own building is likely to care a lot about the social and economic health of that community, particularly when government policies and tax codes seem to fluctuateevery day.

Fundraising events are a perfect opportunity to hone your prospecting skills. Research attendees beforehand to make solicitations during the event, then do more research later on guests who were especially generous.

Using data and specialized data tools to drive your prospecting is the best investment your nonprofit can make in it’s ability to grow and pursue and its mission!

About the Author

Sarah Tedesco is the Executive Vice President of DonorSearch, a prospect research and wealth screening company that focuses on proven philanthropy. Sarah is responsible for managing the production and customer support department concerning client contract fulfillment, increasing retention rate and customer satisfaction. She collaborates with other team members on a variety of issues including sales, marketing and product development ideas.

Skin in the Game: The Importance of Board Giving

By Avrum Lapin, President, The Lapin Group, LLC

When we engage with new clients, we always begin with the imperative – up front and with clarity – that in order for the campaign or fundraising project to be successful, 100% board participation is required. Board members, as the legal stewards of the organization, must lead by example. The impact of board members’ participation goes well beyond the individual donations themselves.

Nonprofit organizations rely on their boards for many functions: governance and budgeting, guidance, community involvement and, of course, fundraising. Though some boards downplay the fundraising aspect, it is essential that each board member be an active participant in ensuring the financial health of the institution. The boards that waffle on this target, by not articulating a clear expectation upfront, are most often the ones who fall short of their fundraising and leadership goals. The majority of successful organizations report high board giving rates. In fact, studies have found that board giving is more positively correlated with overall fundraising success than any other single factor.

Many boards have mandatory giving policies. According to a recent BoardSource survey, 68 percent of nonprofit organizations have a policy requiring board members to make a personal contribution on an annual basis. Some boards have a “give or get” policy that allows board members to either give a personal contribution or raise the funds from family and friends to equal the amount of the required gift. We prefer a “give and get” approach, obligating the board member to lead with a personal investment, inspiring others by saying “join me,” rather than outsourcing their responsibility to others.

Of course, not every board has a policy that requires board giving. For those that do, the process is straightforward and requires a simple call to remind board members of their obligation. The process of new board member recruitment and orientation should include an early and candid conversation about fundraising expectations and financial obligations. Board leadership must set a good example by giving first and publically announcing their gift as a way to encourage others.

Board members may not choose to give for a variety of reasons. Board members might not understand why their contribution is necessary. Compared to major gifts, annual gifts from board members might feel inconsequential. It is up to the board chair and professional leadership to inform each board member of the importance of their giving and why their gift counts.

If board giving is not a precondition of board membership, some leaders often feel uncomfortable broaching the topic and may avoid asking because it feels embarrassing. They don’t want to feel like they’re pressuring fellow board members, or stretching them beyond their capacity.

Some feel that contributing their time is sufficient and that a donation isn’t necessary. While time is valuable, board giving of actual dollars is important to the financial health of nonprofits and creates, and reinforces, a culture of giving that is not attainable by volunteering alone.

The most common reason for individuals not giving is that they simply have not been asked. Board leadership’s duty is to make sure to personally ask for a gift from each board member. A personal ask will yield a greater return than an impersonal direct mail or email request, hoping that “they will get it.” Within the personal conversation, leadership should articulate the organization’s needs and mission and clearly explain both their nonprofit’s financial challenges and opportunities, and the practical and inspirational function of the board member’s gift.

Why 100%

Boards are responsible for the financial health of the organization. However, BoardSource reported that less than half of nonprofits (49%) reach the magic number of total participation.

Board giving typically accounts for 10% of an organization’s total gifts. Interestingly, the number of dollars is not as significant as the act of making the contribution. Through personal philanthropy, each member publicly recognizes and commits to the organization. Board members who use a community chest like the United Way or a Jewish Federation to make their gift should designate their own organization as one of the recipients of their charitable funds. 100% participation indicates that each board member has a strong commitment to the organization and its mission. The message to the donor community is quite compelling and a necessary motivator for others.

Making board giving mandatory – an expectation of membership, has a direct impact on others supporting the organization. Appeals to donors are strengthened and more convincing if a board member can explain the reasons to support the organization and doing so annually. In addition, many foundations only contribute to organizations where every board member is a contributor. By showing that a board is fully invested, doors open to outsiders who may be willing and prepared to support the nonprofit.

Encourage 100% Participation

Though the easiest way to accomplish this goal is to make board giving mandatory, it is not always possible to change the by-laws or the existing requirement of being on a board. The goal, therefore, should be to create a culture of giving, expanding the relationship between the organization and the stakeholder, where everyone not only expects to give, but does so out of desire and a sense of personal commitment, not just out of obligation.

It is apparent that engagement is a key component. Through many different surveys and reports, it is clear that board members give more to organizations that offered substantive, meaningful board experience. The more engaged they could be on their board, the more they wanted to support the organization financially. This finding is hardly surprising as people support those organizations to which they are connected.

Engaging boards should be a priority from both the board and professional leadership. This may take the form of giving every board member a fundraising task such as making phone calls or writing notes. By connecting board members to the fundraising process – “giving and getting,” they will have a deeper understanding of the importance and impact of their own gift. Once this culture of giving is established and takes hold, and becomes a priority throughout the organization, the subject of personal giving by board members becomes a more straightforward expectation.

Engaged boards members will link the organization to their personal networks by making personal introductions, asking associates, friends, and families for gifts and allowing their names to be used in solicitations. Board participation has a deep impact on fundraising. When board members are asked to make requests to friends, business associates, or others in their various personal orbits for financial contributions, those organizations met their goals more frequently than those that did not ask board members to take these actions. The foundation for this rests in each member financially contributing on an annual basis.

Board member giving is a public commitment to the organization’s work. Most nonprofits list their board members on their website and in their annual reports. Board members who take pride in the public recognition should make a personal gift part of their investment. As the hit Broadway musical Hamilton explains, “When you got skin in the game, you stay in the game.” Boards that require skin in the game create stronger boards, more financially sound institutions, and deeper donor pools that will help to advance and grow the organization.

My colleagues and I are interested in your experiences. Let us know what you are thinking. Please feel free to contact me at The Lapin Group at 215-885-1550 or to discuss this further.

About the author

Avrum Lapin is President at The Lapin Group, LLC, based in Jenkintown, Pennsylvania, a prominent full-service fundraising and management consulting firm for nonprofits. The Lapin Group inspires and leads US-based and international nonprofits seeking fund, organizational, leadership, and business development solutions, offering contemporary and leading-edge approaches and strategies. A Board member of the Giving Institute and a member of the Editorial Review Board of Giving USA, Avrum is a frequent contributor to and speaker in the US and in Israel on opportunities and challenges in today’s nonprofit marketplace.