Creating a step-change through major gifts

The IDPE Benchmarking Report summarizes it well: “the School sector has raised some transformational gifts and the benchmarking report shows overwhelmingly that to secure a major gift, it takes time, investment and management. Dedicated human resource with the tools to manage relationships is a must for any school hoping to create a step-change in fundraising through major gifts”.

From this statement alone, there are five key takeaways:

1. Major gifts take time and investment

Dedicated resource must be allocated to make major gift fundraising a success because it requires time to build meaningful relationships with potential donors. Schools raising more than £1m a year devoted twice the amount of time to fundraising activities than those raising £100k-£1m annually.

It often takes time for a school to really understand what it takes to raise a major gift. The data suggests it takes 10 years before a senior development professional can spend 20% or more of working time on fundraising – we can assume this is due to smaller teams where staff members have many other roles beyond dedicated major gifts.

2. Fundraising requires tools as well as dedicated staff

Good major gifts activity is based on relationships that are both strategic and meaningful, but need to be managed carefully to move prospects forward. 46% of schools raising £500k-£999k use a moves management system – this rises to more than 50% in schools raising £1m or more.

Investment in the database and research, and the staff to manage it, correlates to successful fundraising initiatives.

3. Leadership is important

Major donors will inevitably want to meet with the school leadership before making a gift, and managing the internal relationships is a big part of any major gift fundraiser’s role. Of the 25 schools that raised more than £1m each year, most of the development directors reported directly to the Head.

Who asks for the major donation? In many cases, it should be the Head of the School, but only 33 schools reported their Head actively asking for gifts.

4. Campaigns can elevate philanthropy, but planning and timing are key

 Campaigns step-change performance and give urgency to fundraising, but often the process of establishing a campaign is based on need rather than what is possible. Engaging the Development Director at an early stage is key. 80% of schools raising more than £1m were in a campaign.

The average campaign length is 4 years, but those raising over £1m have opted for 6-year campaigns, giving time for a quiet and planning phases to build relationships and secure income.

5. Major gift fundraising can be a risk

Major gifts can make the year-on-year philanthropic income look bumpy if you don’t have a strong pipeline of potential major donors. On average, the report shows the two largest gifts received by schools raising under £1m account for 40-60% of income; in schools raising over £5m, it accounted for 26% of income.

Becki Mckinlay is Managing Consultant at Graham-Pelton Consulting. Click here for more insights about the IDPE and Graham-Pelton Benchmarking Survey results, and the way your organisation may benefit from our findings.

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