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Building toward a campaign goal

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Consultant John Brothers discusses “gift-range scales” and how to use them.

John Brothers

In its simplest form, a gift-range scale is a breakdown by size and number of the donations needed to reach a particular fundraising goal.

Gift-range scales can be very different depending on what type of organization you’re working with. They depend on an organization’s sophistication and its fundraising infrastructure.

A university’s more sophisticated development shop is going to have particular people assigned to creating a gift-range scale, while a smaller human-service agency with a small development shop going to include board members more intensely.

All organizations that have a development shop of any size, or are in the process of building one, should have a gift-range scale.

Populating your scale

When strategizing on their gift-range scale, many organizations fail to look at the Ghost of Christmas Past. A group may not have had a scale in the past, but all groups have people who belong in the scale, and if you neglect them, you’ll leave potential funding nuggets by the wayside.

Before you start looking to your community to see who can help you, look at who has helped you in the past. Remember, it’s only six degrees to Kevin Bacon, so ask yourself who are your existing funders, and then use them to find new prospects.

If you’re a smaller or newer organization, the large and mid-range gift tiers in your first gift scale may be sparse or completely empty. Keep in mind that many of those major donors of the future are going to come from your current lower tiers. Your goal over time should be to “marinate” small but loyal donors into into making larger gifts.

Being realistic

Don’t set unrealistic goals. Often a development shop falls apart because it didn’t get a lot of victories in the beginning. On a first gift-range scale, you really need to set goals that ensure you’ll start to see victories. If you’ve never had a donation of $100,000, don’t put that on your scale.

Start placing the donation possibilities you do have in your gift ranges, and develop individual strategies within those numbers. What has a donor given, and what do you think his or her giving capacity is going to be? Generally the goal is to get them to give 5 to 10 percent more than they gave in previous years.

First things first

A nonprofit should never go out and seek new prospects before it’s gone through that pipeline of existing donors one time. Even if the engine has sputtered, go back and start with who you have in-house.

Once that engine is purring, you’ll be able to really survey the scene. You may realize you have some people in your middle range whom you didn’t really aggressively pursue in the beginning, but now are going to be your larger givers. Have a plan going forward for each donor group, not only for those who are mid- and higher-range.

One thing that’s pretty standard in any development person’s world is that success brings success. So if you build a bandwagon, people are going to jump on.


John Brothers is principal at Bloomfield, N.J.-based Cuidiu Consulting, which helps nonprofits nationwide with communications, strategic planning and program management.

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