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What is a major gift?

It’s a key focus area for many a fundraising mix, but for those new to the idea, what is a major gift?

Of course, it’s different for everyone and there are many definitions.

Broadly though, a major gift is:


  • A single donation which is significantly larger compared to the average for your charity
  • given by a major donor whose contributions are sufficient to warrant one to one cultivation and stewardship


The 80 / 20 rule applies here, so 80% of your income will typically be donated by 20% of your donors.


If your organisation already does individual giving, take a look at your own figures to help you uncover what a major gift looks like for you (and who those donors are!)


What do the thought leaders say?


DonorSearch describes a major gift as simply:


“The largest gifts your organisation receives”


Fundraising Report Card suggests that:


“a major gift is one that has a major impact on your organization”


This superb Guidestar article asks charities the following questions to help them decide:


What do you consider a big gift from an individual donor?


If you skimmed off the top 10 percent of your donors, based on the size of their contributions, what amounts are they giving?


When you open the mail (or review your list of online donations), what size gift inspires you to do your happy dance?

Happy Dance?  I LOVE it!


What about other charities?


In our 2020 benchmarking research looking at return on investment for different types of fundraising, we surveyed 39 UK charities.

Of the 31 charities who responded to the question, ‘What is a Major Gift in your charity’, the responses were as follows:


  • For 4 charities a major gift ranged between £100 – £999
  • For 12 charities, £1,000 – £4,999
  • For 14 charities, £5,000 – £49,999
  • For 1 charity, £50,000+


MOST of these charities (28 out of the 31, had an annual turnover of £1m)


Keeping it real and the importance of starting from where you are


Yesterday I started a new project with a long-standing client.  Our first task was to answer the question, ‘What is a Major Gift?’

They’re a small, local heritage charity.  Most of their voluntary income comes through grants and trusts.  They’re brilliant at securing income for capital projects and one off development activities and are now exploring ways to build longer term, sustainable revenue streams.

They have a very small staff team and relatively simple systems and processes (with limited automated donation processes – it’s all done manually at present).

It’s important to define a major gift against the unique backdrop of your own charity which will have its own set of circumstances and caveats to consider.


We decided as a team that a major gift for this charity is £50.


Together, we came up with a new level of ‘membership’, focused purely on philanthropy (as opposed to the traditional ‘transactional’ memberships which heritage sites sell to visitors in return for unlimited repeat visits).

This new group of donors will work together to fund small projects in and around the site.  The charity will be able to replicate communications for group members and will host a couple of small events each year.


It’s manageable and reflects where the charity is at right now.


In time, they’ll be able to forge deeper relationships with select benefactors whom they believe have the capability and the desire to make bigger gifts.


Small is beautiful


The trustees told me how relieved they were that we had set the barrier at this relatively low entry level.


It gives them confidence to suggest more prospects


Asking for £50 feels achievable and will give them the opportunity to practise the art of solicitation (knowing that the stakes aren’t too high)


It reflects the reality of the time they have to spend on this work (not very much!)


It’s refreshing for me as a consultant to work with a team who have very realistic expectations of what they can achieve.

They seem to understand instinctively that personal connections are so much more valuable than chasing after local millionaires (and shout out to Louise Morris of Summit Fundraising for this fantastic piece on why you should be ignoring the Rich Lists…).

They also get that this is a long game.

There is no shame in starting small if that’s your reality.  I reckon they’ll be very successful.



Ready to delve deeper into Major Gifts Fundraising? major gifts made simple


Our self-guided online training course, Major Gifts Made Simple takes you through the basics of:


  • How to find prospects
  • Setting a target
  • Writing a case for support
  • Cultivating relationships
  • How to ask for different types of gift


We give you scripts, templates and real-life case studies to help you make the best start in this incredibly rewarding discipline.


Major Gifts Made Simple will be available in November 2021. 

Read more and sign up for updates here.

Posted in Fundraising, Major gift fundraising.