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Five (All too Common) Reasons Nonprofits Fall Short in Raising Major Gifts: Reason #3

Big gifts make a big impact. Most nonprofits fall short in landing game-changing major gifts however. This is number three in a five-part series exploring five reasons why. In our previous posts we talked about how talent gaps on the fundraising team are one major contributing factor, and failing to ask is another. In this entry we discuss how a shortage of good fundraising offers is reason #3…


I have seen gifted fundraisers with proven success at one organization struggle to land big gifts after moving to another. They can tee up the relationship, but aren’t able to close the deal. Usually this is because they don’t have the right giving opportunities to offer. Offers are your most important fundraising documents. Without good offers, all you have to lean on are capital needs, special projects, and/or a small number of close personal relationships that can be leveraged for “use it where you need it most” types of gifts from your most loyal donors.

A good fundraising offer must first seize attention, then move hearts AND set minds toward action by settling seven inherent questions every donor needs answered: what, why, why now, who, how, how much, and how do I fit in? Crafting an effective offer isn’t easy. You can read more about how to write a good major gift offer by reading one of our previous blog entries, Make an Offer they Can’t Refuse… How to Craft an Effective Major Gift Offer.

Here are five practical tips you can use to help you improve what you are offering as investment opportunities to your major donors:

  • Quote3Most organizations do a good job of developing giving opportunities at lower levels, but too few have compelling offers that are appropriate for major donors, particularly for operational needs. Major donors give big dollars to big ideas. To land big gifts, build your case for support around your big ideas, then parse those ideas into offers with appropriately-sized “fundable chunks” of the big vision to give donors an easy way to make the right-sized investment for them.
  • Connecting impact to gifts is critical to landing big gifts. To do this it is important to define specific “calls to action” that donors can latch onto. In essence you are telling donors that if they give $X it is going to have Y impact in the life of someone who needs help.
  • There is also a delicate balance between the size of an individual donors’ gift and the total need. If the goal is too small relative to a donor’s gift, you run a risk that (s)he will be concerned about creating dependency. On the other hand, if the scale of the project is too large relative to the size of what you are proposing to an individual donor, it’s likely that the donor will not feel that their gift will “make much of a difference”. There is a truism often cited by Dickerson, Bakker & Associates that an effective offer will “minimize the goal to maximize the impact of the gift”. Few donors get excited when their gift is the proverbial “drop in the bucket”.

To do a better job of appealling to donors at increasingly higher levels, “fundable chunks” of the overall case will need to be developed at appropriate dollar handles and each gift should be as closely tied as possible to a specific outcome that will change the lives of people in a meaningful way.

Click here to follow along with part four of this series…

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