Anatomy of the Leadership Gift Phase

Posted by admin on Aug 10, 2018 11:17:09 AM

In his article "Who Asks Whom, and for How Much?," CDS President David G. Phillips discussed the importance of starting a capital campaign with the largest gifts first. David stressed the importance of not only asking for major gifts, but also recruiting top givers as leaders in the campaign: ergo, the Leadership Gift Phase. The Leadership Gift Phase is the single most important activity of the campaign as its success (or failure) will determine the ultimate success (or failure) of the campaign as a whole.

I find it best to begin by considering the magnitude of the goal and evaluating what gifts are necessary to reach that goal. I do this by developing a Table of Gifts Required which reflects some proven capital campaign fundraising maxims, namely the “80/20 Rule” (80% of the money will come from 20% of the donors) including at least one lead gift of between 10-25% of the overall goal, and that a total of 50-60% of the total raised will come from the top four or five gift categories.

I typically classify leadership gifts as $100,000+ (often as pledges over as many as five years) and begin with the best prospects – those donors who are regular or past givers at the highest levels. This group has already demonstrated an extraordinary commitment to the organization and may be counted on to give serious consideration to our requests. Then I include other potential leadership gift donors identified during the Feasibility Study (if one was conducted) or by other means. This will give you a short list of top-level prospects that you can cultivate and solicit first.

The Importance of Early, Large Gifts
The Leadership Gift Phase is the most important and critical activity in the campaign because leadership gifts get the campaign off to a fast, credible start, build momentum and excitement, set the standard of subsequent giving, and determine the eventual outcome of the campaign.

Knowing the importance of this phase and its impact on what I am ultimately going to be able to raise, I develop a detailed plan of action. I work with the president/director of the organization to recruit the chief volunteer leaders into a Leadership Phase working committee. Next, I share the plan with the group and teach them the most effective methods and practices to implement the program.

Once co-opted into the plan, the leaders become intrinsic to the process, especially in researching, evaluating, prioritizing, cultivating and, of course, soliciting leadership gift prospects.

The Program
In a typical capital campaign to raise $3-10 million for a small to medium sized organization, the goal of the Leadership Gift phase is to raise a minimum of 50% of the minimum campaign goal. The best way to begin (and the surest way to be successful!) is by seeking an extraordinary lead gift to the campaign. This gift should represent somewhere between 10 and 25% of the overall minimum goal. In order to achieve this, about 30 to 40 prospects should be targeted, rated and screened. It is my recommendation that the president/director and the chief volunteer leaders jointly accept responsibility for the implementation and success of the Leadership Gifts Phase. This provides accountability. The solicitation of large gifts requires a highly personal and structured approach, given the sensitive and important nature of the activity. These gifts are just too important to be treated casually or without consideration of the long-term effects (especially if not done right!). Extensive preparation is necessary and essential to ensure an effective solicitation. Almost invariably, effective and appropriate solicitation yields the desired result. In charitable fundraising, these approaches must be personal as well as business-like.

I recommend all Leadership Gifts Phase visits be conducted in the prospect’s home – most major decisions involve both the husband and wife and are best considered in comfortable and familiar settings. It is important to keep to the campaign's agenda during visits, but you will also be dealing with people on very human and personal levels as well. Remember, a capital campaign is about more than money; it is also about the mission of the organization. Many of the prospects targeted will be asked for gifts larger than they may have ever considered (or thought of as appropriate) for any non-profit institution or cause.

Your mental attitude is an important first consideration. I encourage people to understand that this is work they can do well, because of their involvement and love for the organization. I also stress that they are not asking for themselves, but rather on behalf of an organization they care about and consider important. It is important that the volunteer/solicitor adopt a sense of urgency, and that they thoroughly know the case and objectives of the campaign. Leadership gifts are solicited in series, rather than in concert. “We need your decision before we go any further. Can we come back next Tuesday to discuss it with you further and hear your response?”

I spend a lot of time working closely with the volunteers to select their initial few prospects. Sometimes I think the hardest part is getting started. I find it very helpful if their first couple of solicitations are successful, and at the highest possible gift levels. The first two gifts will greatly aid their ability to get the second two gifts, and so on. A $1 million gift at the early stage of a campaign is worth several times its numerical value because of the leverage it provides the organization. However, a $1 million gift at the end of the campaign is worth only $1 million. Early success will help you build confidence and enthusiasm. This manifests itself in many ways, not just in the money raised, but in the commitments expressed by donors to your work and in people expressing their commitment to their community through their action.

As fundraising counsel, I help the client determine the order of prospects for solicitation. Together, we devise a strategy and approach to each potential donor. I spend a lot of time providing guidance on what works – that is on proven methods and techniques for getting the appointment, making the presentation, requesting the gift, and any follow-up necessary. I also help the client prepare necessary materials for the solicitation (letters, a prospectus or proposal, other plans and detailed supporting pieces) and provide overall management of the program.

Steps in the solicitation process include:

1. Pre-visit preparation

  • Orientation of the case/needs
  • Prospects assigned
  • Strategy developed and request amount agreed on

2. Set a formal appointment

  • Determine the best time to call
  • What is the format of the meeting? -- breakfast, coffee, dinner, setting, spouse
  • Who else should be there – another Board member? Other donors?
  • Coordinate schedules before calling
  • Call and request the appointment

3. Campaign office prepares a specific proposal

  • Personal letter with request amount (to be left with the prospect after the visit)
  • Case statement or brochure and other promotional materials
  • Pre-visit briefing given by counsel -- a rehearsal

4. The meeting

  • Break the ice
  • Present the case
  • Ask for the gift – specifically!
  • Listen
  • Handle the response
  • Set the appropriate follow up

5. Follow-up and closure

  • Any additional
  • Campaign office sends thank-you letter immediately
  • Anticipation of their response and additional information
  • Personal follow-up by the agreed date – purposeful
  • Arrangements for documentation of their gift

In summary, all contributors are important, but those capable of making the largest gifts require special attention because of the importance of successfully soliciting their support. Such Leadership gifts provide significant money, set the pace for giving, inspire confidence, create momentum, and ensure success – YOUR success.


Custom Development Solutions, Inc., (CDS) is among the most sought after fundraising consulting firms specializing in the strategic planning and tactical execution of capital campaigns for non-profits throughout the United States and Canada.  If you have a fundraising question, please call CDS at 800-761-3833 or send an email to info@cdsfunds.com.

Topics: capital campaign, capital campaign planning, capital campaigns, Capital Campaigns

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