Editors’ note: This article, first published in print during June-1986, has been republished for Nonprofit Quarterly with minor updates.

We have discussed at length why people are afraid to ask for money, how to identify prospects for larger gifts, how to solicit the gift, and how to set a goal for a campaign. Certainly, lack of knowledge about how to identify people to ask and discomfort with the process of asking for money are the biggest barriers to the successful completion of a major gifts program. However, once a group has mastered the process of asking and has begun to identify those people who should be asked (prospects), the organization is ready to move from a major gifts program to a more formal campaign. This article discusses how a grassroots group can conduct such a campaign, focusing on the logistics of each step.

Most grassroots groups have ongoing major gifts programs. That is, they engage in major gifts solicitation informally throughout the year. While the groups may set a goal to be raised from major gifts, they will not stop when they reach the goal, nor is the goal necessarily made public.

The Parts of a Major Gifts Campaign

The primary difference between an ongoing major gifts program and a major gifts campaign is that a campaign is time-limited — it begins and ends at specified dates. During that period, a few volunteers devote themselves intensively to meeting a specific financial goal, giving amounts of time and effort to the campaign that would be difficult to maintain beyond a short commitment.

To summarize, there are three primary components of a major gifts campaign:

  1. The campaign is time-limited
  2. It involves a few volunteers intensively
  3. It has a specific fundraising goal.

The purposes of doing a time-limited campaign instead of a year-round program are to involve more volunteers, to get more publicity for the overall needs of the organization, and usually to solicit larger individual gifts.

A major gifts campaign requires nine steps, some of which are the same as for any major gifts program. The steps are listed below, with those that would be the same for an ongoing program so noted. Following, we discuss each step in detail.

  1. Set a goal for amount to be raised (same) and length of campaign
  2. Identify and train solicitors
  3. Identify prospects (same)
  4. Prepare supporting materials
  5. Assign prospects and solicit gifts (same)
  6. Kick off the campaign with a special event (optional, though can attract media attention and recognize donors)
  7. Hold regular reporting meetings to discuss progress and boost morale of campaign volunteers
  8. Celebrate the end of a successful campaign with a special event (also optional, though can attract media attention and recognize donors)
  9. Thank donors and record gifts, and incorporate new donors into ongoing fundraising efforts (same).

The Steps in Detail

1. Set a goal.

The first steps in a major gifts campaign are to decide how long the campaign will last and how much money the campaign is to raise. For small organizations, a campaign of six weeks to three months is ideal, with four months a maximum. To determine a fundraising goal, calculate how much you should be able to raise with the number of volunteers you have. Generally, a volunteer can ask five people a month for three months without undue strain. A committee of five volunteers, then, would be able to ask 75 people during three months. Assuming a usual (but conservative) 50 percent rate of success from face-to-face solicitation, your group would have 37 or 38 new donors after such a campaign. If you have a shortage of volunteers, ask each volunteer to solicit more people each month.

Knowing how many gifts you can get, plot how many gifts of specific amounts will get you to your goal. First, decide the minimum contribution you will solicit face-to-face. Most groups select $250 or $500 as the minimum gift, but some choose $100. (Rarely would it be worth the effort to make face-to-face solicitations for less than $100.) The final choice of the lowest gift depends to a large extent on how many major gifts your group has received to date and how experienced or comfortable your solicitors are.

Next, determine what your largest gift will need to be. A general rule is to make the largest gift 10 percent of the total goal. With the largest and lowest gifts decided, you can now fill in the other gifts you will need and how many of each to meet the goal. A campaign for $25,000 might look like this:

Goal: $25,000
Gift Amount Number of Gifts Cumulative Total
$2,500 1 $2,500
1000 5 5,000
500 10 5,000
250 30 7,000
100 50 5,000
TOTAL 96 $30,000

Conservatively assuming a 50 percent rate of rejection, you would need twice as many prospects — or 192 in our example — to ensure meeting your goal of 96 gifts.

For this $25,000 campaign, then, you would need approximately 13 people soliciting five people each month for three months (13 × 5 × 3 = 195), which allows for some people not completing all their calls.

Don’t get too bogged down in making your gift range chart. There is no scientific way to do it. Basically, the chart is a triangle with fewer people at the top and more people at the bottom. (In a rural, less populated area, you might need to have even larger gifts from even fewer people than this chart indicates.) The point of the chart is to recognize that not everyone will give the same amount, and to set a limit on the number of people needing to be solicited. Prospects and donors like this kind of plan because it lets them know that the group has planned its campaign and knows what it is doing.

2. Identify and train solicitors.

Invite people to be on the campaign committee, assembling the number of solicitors you need. Committee members should fulfill two simple commitments, with a third commitment optional. First, each member should ideally be a major donor. Second, each member must agree to solicit a certain number of prospects each month for a certain number of months. Third, and optional, is for members to provide names for the master prospect list. If your committee members do not provide these names, then you will need another way to get them.

Once enough people have agreed to be on the committee, set a meeting for them to be briefed about the campaign and taught how to ask for money. The meeting should last about three hours.

It is imperative that every person be at this training, even if they have participated in fundraising solicitations before. The experience of people sharing their knowledge will be of great benefit to those who are feeling unsure. Also, the committee should have a sense of itself as a team and this meeting will help develop a strong feeling of camaraderie from the very beginning.

In addition to teaching people how to ask for money, pass out the prepared supporting materials as described in step 4, and assign prospects as described in step 5.

3. Identify prospects.

Use the prospect forms and identifying methods described in “Getting Major Gifts: The Basics” (see page 3). Keep in mind that a prospect is characterized by three things:

  1. The ability to give a certain size gift
  2. Belief in your cause
  3. Some contact with someone on your committee.

Unlike an informal, ongoing program, in a campaign, all the prospects must be identified before the campaign can begin. When all the names are in, prepare a master list of prospects as in Example A.

Example A
Name/Address Phone Amount to be Solicited Solicitor Outcome

Information about each prospect, such as evidence of belief in the cause, record of previous donations, evidence of ability to give and other personal information is kept on separate cards, not on the master list (see Example B). The cards are only given to the solicitor for his or her prospects. All of this information is highly confidential and all solicitors must be people who have a clear sense of discretion and can be trusted.

Example B


Joe Donor

13 Middle Class Way

Suburb, USA

Owns a dry goods store. Has given $250 for past three years. Also active in another good organization. Strong on environment. Wife used to be on our board. Now divorced from her, but he is still committed to our group.

If you have trouble identifying the number of prospects you need, take this as an indication that you either need to scale down your campaign, or reconsider whether you are ready to take on a campaign or should continue seeking major gifts in a more informal way.

4. Prepare supporting materials.

A campaign needs a number of materials for solicitors to use. Some of these will exist in your organization; others will need to be created for the campaign. The supporting materials are of two types: a) materials that the solicitors will give to donors; and b) materials that are for the solicitors’ use only, or that relate to the campaign committee.

For the solicitor to use with donors, you will need:

  • A campaign brochure: The brochure spells out the purpose and goal of the campaign, the gifts needed, and the history of the organization. It also invites donors to a celebration at the conclusion of the campaign and tells them the benefits associated with their donations. Having special ben-efits for donors can increase the campaign’s success. Such benefits might include an invitation to the celebration, a plaque or certificate of appreciation, specially created art-work for the organization, a special book or special edition of a book, etc. Whatever the benefit is, it should be nice but not cost more than $5 to $7 per donor. Many organizations list donors on a brass plate displayed on a wall at the organizations’ office, or put names in the newsletter or even take out an ad in the local paper to thank them.
  • A pledge card: This is a card with the donor’s name and what amount he or she has agreed to give along with the method of payment.
  • Stationery, envelopes and return envelopes: There need to be enough for writing to all the prospects and some extras for mistakes.

For the solicitors’ or committee’s use only:

  • A timeline
  • A complete description of the campaign and some soliciting tips
  • The organization’s budget
  • A list of difficult and commonly asked questions about the organization, with possible answers
  • A list of the other solicitors, and whom to call for more information.

All of these materials should be put together in a “Cam-paigner’s Notebook” which can be as simple as a manila folder, but looks nice, has the name of the solicitor on it, and appears official.

At the training meeting, each person is given their copy of the materials and all the materials are reviewed. In addition, each person will be given a copy of the master prospect list and cards on each of their prospects.

5. Assign prospects (and solicit gifts).

At the meeting, after the solicitors are trained and familiar with the materials and the campaign, they are each given a master prospect list and asked to read through it and choose which prospects they will solicit. Have them write down their prospects on a piece of scratch paper for the first go-round. Ask each solicitor to read his or her list out loud. Everyone else listens for duplication. Should two solicitors have the same person on their lists, they briefly discuss and decide right there which of them will take the prospect. Each person reads his or her list until it is clear that all prospects have been chosen, that everyone has different prospects, and no one prospect will be solicited twice. Solicitation can now begin.

6. Kick off the campaign with a special event (optional).

It is often useful to kick off the campaign with a special event. This is not a gala affair, but the press might be invited, as well as all the prospects and all the solicitors. Wine, soft drinks, and hors d’oeuvres should be served, and someone should give an impassioned, enthusiastic, and articulate but brief speech about the campaign, including its goals, the need for the organization, the benefits donors get for giving, and telling all the people at the event that they will soon be solicited.

The event can be educational for prospects, informing them of the need and reinforcing their commitment to reaching the goal. An event also provides a time for people to see who else is involved and who is giving — this peer identification adds an important element to the desire to give.

For campaigns covering large areas (national or several states or large rural areas), a series of small events will be appropriate.

7. Hold regular reporting meetings to discuss progress and boost morale of campaign volunteers.

These meetings should take place at least once every two weeks, preferably weekly, during the campaign. The meet-ings only last 30 to 45 minutes, and many groups hold them over breakfast at 7:30 am. The purpose of the meeting is to give everyone a chance to report their progress, which forces everyone to have made some progress between meetings. They can share frustrations, fears, and successes. A report of the progress to the goal should be made, and any additional materials (brochures, return envelopes, extra stationery) can be given out then as well. For groups covering large areas, weekly or semi-weekly meetings may not be possible. In that case, some kind of phone check-in is imperative.

8. Celebrate the end of the campaign with a special event.

This, too, is optional, but it is an excellent way to recognize and reward the committee as well as the donors. It can be a simple wine and cheese reception from 5 to 7 in the evening, with a speech announcing the successful conclusion of the campaign. Some groups have formal dinners, or ground-breaking ceremonies, in the case of capital campaigns. It is not necessary to be elaborate — simply gracious, warm, and rewarding to volunteers and donors.

9. Recognize donors and incorporate them into ongoing fundraising efforts.

Aside from raising money, the purpose of a formal campaign is to strengthen donor loyalty and increase the number of donors and the size of their donations. To take advantage of that strengthened loyalty and those increased gifts, you must have a mailing list in place and a way to have regular correspondence with your donors. They should now receive any appropriate invitations to special events, occasional mail appeals and, of course, personal letters describing the progress of the program to which they donated.


A major gifts campaign is fun and lucrative. To succeed at all, however, it must be done right. Groups wishing to take shortcuts, or those feeling that they do not have all the infrastructure in place, should not attempt a formal campaign until they are completely ready and able to do so. 􀀁

June, 1986
Volume 5, Article 3, #3