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What Scares Fundraisers the MOST About Major Gifts? [New Data]

Posted by Andrew Littlefield on Jun 15, 2015 10:00:00 AM

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It should come as no surprise that fundraisers have excellent people skills.

In fact, the best major gift fundraisers have a unique blend of skills that allow them to converse and carry on with just about anybody. They’re the very definition of a people person and conversationalist.

But major gift fundraising isn’t all schmoozing and conversing, and that’s where many fundraisers feel their weaknesses are.

So what scares fundraisers the most about major gift fundraising?

To answer this question, I created a survey. I wanted to know which stages of the major gift process fundraisers felt the most comfortable and the least comfortable.

The results backed up the idea that fundraisers excel in the relationship-heavy stages of major gift fundraising, but feel less confident in the stages that don’t rely on these skills as heavily.

Before getting to all that, we need to look at the makeup of the major gift fundraising landscape. More than a third (36%) of survey respondents reported that their organization does not employ someone who specializes in major gift fundraising. That would suggest that there are a lot of nonprofit workers out there trying to raise funds in a method that puts them out of their area of expertise. This is going to have a big impact on the responses to these questions.


Next, I asked which stage of the major gift process (Identification, Discovery, Cultivation, Solicitation, and Stewardship) fundraisers felt the most and least comfortable with.

Fundraisers felt the strongest about the relationship-heavy cultivation and stewardship phases. These are vital phases in major gift fundraising, so it’s good that fundraisers feel so confident in this area. These are some of the most time consuming stages as well, and is certainly not an easy skill to learn.

Hiring Major Gift Officers

But it’s where fundraisers feel the weakest that things get really interesting.


At 41%, solicitation (the actual ask) was the stage where fundraisers felt the weakest. This is an interesting finding. At the surface level, you might think that the ask requires the strongest relationship skills out of any stage. Asking someone to part with a large amount of money requires an intimate knowledge and understanding of their motivations and your relationship with them.

But this is also the point at which the fundraising relationship starts to feel more like a sale than a partnership. Asking someone for money shifts the power balance of the relationship and can leave someone who is used to being the provider of value feeling out of place.

After the solicitation, fundraisers report identification as the next area they feel weakest.

Identification is likely the stage that is the least reliant on relationship skills and more focused on scalable processes and research. At this stage of the process, you likely haven’t even made contact with a prospect yet; you’re just collecting leads to begin to do research on and pursue.

This stage also requires discipline and a systematic approach to be successful. You want to spend your time wisely and avoid filling the top of your pipeline with ill-fitting prospects. But you also need to identify a sufficient number of prospects to provide the value you need down the pipeline.

Efficiency and process are the name of the game here.


A majority of fundraisers (52%) stated that they do not feel like their organization has a systematic approach to major gift fundraising. It would make sense then that identification is such a hangup for many fundraisers.

What’s It All Mean?

Overall, these results give great insight and guidance on the state of major gift fundraising in the nonprofit world. A majority of fundraisers say they’re comfortable asking for major gifts (despite the reported trouble with the solicitation phase) and that they feel like their fundraising goals are realistic.

But it also shows where we can focus education and training efforts to help oil the major gift machine and help nonprofits secure more funding.

Speaking of which! Join us for a FREE webinar on June 25th at 1:00PM Eastern! We’ll be talking about the identification and solicitation stages and helping give YOU the tools you need to close a major gift.

Hiring Major Gift Officers

Topics: Major Gifts, major gift prospecting,, major gift fundraising,

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