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How-to Library • Featuring articles from past issues of Contributions

Tenets to Raise Money By
Certain factors are irrefutable, says philanthropy’s grandmaster

By Jerold Panas

For my book, Mega Gifts: Who Gives Them, Who Gets Them, I spoke with more than 50 men and women who had made gifts of $1 million or more. I also collected data from more than a thousand fundraising professionals.

As for me, I bring over 40 years to this magnificent business of helping others undertake consequential acts of kindness and generosity.

What I’ve discovered is that there are clearly factors and forces that motivate large gifts. The proof is irrefutable. There is more commonality in the factors than there are differences. And as extraordinarily unique as people are, the drive and consideration that propels them to a major gift is very much the same.

During the preparation of Mega Gifts I combined all I’d learned from my donors and all I could read on the subject. I mixed this generously and openly with my own feelings and attitudes.

What has evolved are 62 factors that I’m convinced guide, shape, and determine the success of securing the mega gifts. Here I’ll share a random seven with you.

1) It’s harder to get an appointment than it is to secure the gift.

More intensive planning and innovation may be required to get the appointment than is needed to sell the program. Develop a strategy for securing the visit. It’s every bit as important as your plan for getting the gift. 

Use the best person and contact possible to make the appointment and open the door. Always remember: getting the appointment is 85 percent of getting the gift.

2) The commitment regarding the major gift will likely not be made on the first visit.

If it is, there’s a good possibility you’re leaving money on the table. 

The reason we call a large sum a stop-and-think-gift is because the stretch gift requires time to come to a resolution. This being the case, spend most of your time during the first call selling the drama, the power, and the excitement of the program.

3) A person with no experience in giving will rarely make a major first gift.

Giving is a habit. The fact that a person has great resources offers no assurance that a gift will be made. I’m talking about a large gift.

How often have you heard: “She has enough money to fund the whole campaign.” But she won’t, not if she hasn’t had the experience and exhilaration of giving in the past. It’s like getting the first olive out of the jar.

Make the call anyway. You can’t win if you don’t begin. Be satisfied with a smaller gift than you had hoped for. Show appreciation, cultivate, recognize. Call again for a gift. And again.

Gradually, that smaller first gift will grow into a much larger one.

4) The staff is singularly dominant in motivating the mega gift – particularly the Chief Executive Officer.

It is critical to have the Chief Executive Officer involved in some significant way in developing the solicitation strategy and actually making the call for a large gift. It pays proper respect to the donor and is immensely effective in influencing the gift.

For the solicitation, have the CEO make the call with a high ranking volunteer – and you have a Magic Partnership.

5) Those who will give to you in the future are men and women who have given to you in the past. 

Your best prospects for a gift are those who have already given to you.

This tenet is flawless, even if a sizable gift has just been made to your organization. Say, for instance, you’re very near the completion of your campaign – the bottom half of the ninth inning! But you still haven’t reached your goal.

You evaluate the prospects who still haven’t committed to the program. You make a careful examination. The appraisal looks promising, but it still doesn’t appear you’ll be able to reach your goal.

What to do? Should you call on those who have already given to the campaign – but haven’t done as much as they could have or you expected? No! Don’t call on them. Instead, call on those who have already made a very large and generous gift. They will do more. And they will be pleased you asked.

6) Big givers refer to one quality in particular they feel is most important in the person making the call: integrity.

They must respect the person and hold him or her in high regard and esteem. This is true whether the solicitor is a staff person or a volunteer.

As far as a staff person is concerned, large givers list integrity first. Then they talk about the 3 Es. What they like to see in the staff person is Energy, Enthusiasm, and Empathy.

7) For many, campaign literature creates the same boom as the sound of one hand clapping.

Often, campaign material is a turn-off. A negative. And the fancier the material, the more objectionable it is to donors. The majority of serious donors much prefer a strong and compelling oral presentation, substantiated by simple written documentation.

Campaign literature can help influence smaller and medium sized gifts. It can also provide aid and comfort to the solicitor.

But for the really large size gift, use a different approach. Try the three-ring binder,  replete with enticing photographs. Nothing is more effective.


My urge here is to share all 62 tenets with you. But, alas, Contributions wouldn’t hear of it. And of course they’re right. They have other capable writers that want your attention, too.

An author, popular speaker and consultant, Mr. Panas is considered one of the most creative men in the field of fund raising. His books include Asking, The Fundraising Habits of Supremely Successful Boards, and Mega Gifts, all published by Emerson & Church. Panas is Executive Partner of one of America's leading fund raising firms. For more information, visit www.instituteforgiving.org.

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