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Passing the Relay Baton

How Leadership Annual Giving Can Help Build an Integrated, Collaborative Fundraising Office

Annual giving and major giving teams traditionally experience a bit of friction over donors. Often, major gift officers want credit, while annual giving staff don’t want assigned prospects pulled from their solicitation pools, or for restricted gifts to take away from their annual giving goals.

There may be disagreement, but in reality, annual giving and major giving need each other. In a well-oiled fundraising machine, annual giving works with donors and develops their relationship with the institution until they became wealthy enough to work with major gifts. Conversely, donors who didn’t qualify for major giving would be able to seamlessly integrate back into annual giving.

Looks great on paper, right? But how do you put this into practice in an environment that often competitive?

Introducing: ‘Leadership Annual Giving’

Leadership annual giving programs are designed to bridge the gap between annual giving and major giving. They provide donors and prospects with a smooth transitional experience and are a key component in cross-functional cooperation. Annual giving and major giving are both stronger with the help of an integrated leadership annual giving program.

What is Leadership Annual Giving?

Definitions of leadership annual giving vary widely. Depending on your constituent base, your leadership gifts may be $1,000, $5,000, $10,000 or more. Typically, organizations need fewer leadership annual giving officers than major gift officers, but these officers are very effective. Our research shows 48 percent of prospects assigned to a leadership annual giving officer are donating to the annual fund, versus 40 percent of the donors assigned to major gifts officers.

Which Donors Are Candidates for Leadership Annual Giving?

Leadership annual giving prospects are consistent donors. Often, they have important connections to the institution, or are prospects with significant wealth, but are too young to be considered major donors. The leadership annual giving team’s job is to transition these donors to “sustainer” status, or gradually increase their donation size or frequency. Leadership annual giving officers also qualify donors for the major gifts team, discover new opportunities for endowed scholarships and planned gifts, and are the first impression a younger donor has about a philanthropic relationship.

How Leadership Annual Giving and Major Giving Can Interact

Leadership annual giving is a point of transition, which can go both ways. Most leadership annual giving donors are young and growing philanthropically. But donors who don’t quite qualify for major gifts can also be transitioned to projects or scholarship programs organized by a leadership annual giving officer. This layer between the two traditionally siloed gift teams can help make sure interested donors are not lost in the shuffle.

Getting Started

Starting a leadership annual giving program is all about creating a process and defining qualifications for annual giving, leadership annual giving, and major giving donors. Every school will have a different approach based on their unique constituents. Your end goal is to keep interested donors engaged at a level where they’re best able to support you.

We know, it sounds daunting! You want more research? You’re looking for recommendations? Send us a note at for more information on setting up a leadership annual giving program at your institution.

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