The definition of a major gift differs from organization to organization. A small nonprofit might deem a major gift as anything over $1,000 while a large, established organization might call $50,000 a major gift. Developing a major gifts strategy is critical, regardless the size of your organization. So why doesn’t every nonprofit have one?

Here are three common reasons nonprofits fail at major gift fundraising:

  1. The Fundraiser Trap

As a Founder of a startup grassroots organization over 12 years ago, I had no clue how to raise money. So, like many leaders of startup organizations, I did all I knew to do – host fundraisers. Concerts, bake sales, jewelry parties, raffles, spaghetti dinners, crock pot socials, car washes…I did it all. Are these things bad? No, not at all. However, this is not a major gifts strategy AND it’s not a plan that creates long term sustainability. This type of fundraising approach is very transactional. You show up, have some fun, tell a heartwarming story and collect. You walk away with a little money, celebrate a victory and immediately set your sights on the next fundraiser. Relying on this strategy forces you to spend your energy creating the next event and less time nurturing and building strong relationships with donors.

  1. Fear

Numbers 13 tells us that the twelve spies went into the Promised Land to scout it out before the Hebrew nation was to enter and claim what God promised them.  Joshua and Caleb came back ready to invade. The other 10 spies were terrified of the so called “giants” in the land.  They later confessed, “we became like grasshoppers in our own sight, and so we were in their sight.”  Why did the “giants” view the ten spies as little “grasshoppers”? Because the spies viewed themselves as little “grasshoppers”.  Instead of trusting God, believing His promise, and moving out with courage, fear paralyzed them.  If we see ourselves as grasshoppers, we will always see giants. The grasshopper mentality flees when a believer’s mind is renewed and comes into agreement with their true identity.  “Christ in you…”  Col 1:27

The lack of healthy spiritual identity keeps most Christians trapped with a grasshopper mentality.  The same identity crises seeks to trap a ministry leader as they fundraise. How do you view yourself and your ministry as you sit with an intimidating businessman/women in their high-rise office building?  If they sense you possess a “grasshopper mentality” they will pick up on it. “As a man thinks within himself, so he is.”  Proverbs 23:7

If how we view God is the most important thing about us, then our understanding of how God views us is the second most important thing about us! “The Lord your God in your midst, The Mighty One will save; He will rejoice over you with gladness, He will quiet you with His love, He will rejoice over you with singing.” Zephaniah 3:17

“Looking at ourselves the way God does produces a healthy and balanced self-image, a Biblical self-esteem.  This has everything to do with your success or failure in raising funds for your ministry…and every other area of life.  One of the greatest questions anyone can answer about himself is also the simplest—“Who Am I?”    Before you can present yourself or your ministry to anyone else, you must have settled exactly who you are in your heart.  Jesus believes you are worthy of your wage.  Do you believe that?” (The God Ask, Steve Shadrach)

  1. Wearing Too Many Hats

Fundraising takes time, patience and intentionality. Building a successful major gifts program requires developing strong relationships and trust. Many nonprofit leaders are overextended and wearing too many hats. Relational fundraising can tend to fall by the wayside without an intentional plan and accountability. Creating margin in your week to work “on” your ministry, not just “in” your ministry is crucial to growth and sustainability. In ministry, it’s easy to fall victim to the tyranny of the urgent. Resisting this hamster wheel can be hard, however, with a good coach or mentor to hold you accountable – it can be done!


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Emily Fitchpatrick, Director of Client Services