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Understanding Major Gift Sources

What Are Major Gift Sources?

Examining major gift sources will help you discover where your investments will do the most to improve your major giving results. Although each college or university has different constituent profiles, every institution receives major gifts from three sources

Bluebirds: Bluebirds arrive “ready to donate” and were not necessarily identified by prospect research. Something unique at your institution drives their affinity. There is little you can do to influence a bluebird gift.

Pipeline: Prospects in the Pipeline group fall into Discovery, Cultivation, and Solicitation categories. They may have been identified by prospect research, or self-identified. Donors often travel through the Discovery-Cultivation-Solicitation process multiple times and could fall off or rejoin along the way. Finding and developing donors from this important group requires the largest share of your budget.

Evergreen: Evergreen donors are your known and reliable donors. Moving donors from the Pipeline group to the Evergreen category requires good stewardship and a modest amount of targeted investment. Gift officers are typically incentivized to focus on Evergreens because it’s easy to plan visits with them and secure their gifts. However, some of this effort should be redirected to Pipeline donors to ensure a new cohort of Evergreen donors for the future.

Your Cost-Per-Dollar for the Different Gift Sources

As you consider your approach to your Pipeline and Evergreen donors, it’s important to assess current and future costs. From an outsider’s view, higher education fundraisers have an enviable position. In 2017, Reeher Community institutions spent an average of 25 cents per dollar donated. Compared to for-profit corporations, which could spend up to 85 cents to raise a dollar, higher education development programs have an impressive return on investment.

Getting the Best Return for Every Dollar Spent

Of course the real cost-per-dollar-raised varies from institution to institution around the country. Variations in constituent wealth and engagement, as well as advancement budget mean that some institutions are working much harder to raise money than others. There is a real opportunity for advancement teams to reexamine where their resources are being used to ensure they’re getting the best return for every dollar spent.

Spending on Pipeline Donors for the Health of Your Program

Regardless of the hand your advancement team has been dealt, your cost to raise a dollar is likely very different for your Bluebird, Pipeline, and Evergreen donor groups. Evergreen donors require relatively little investment compared to the value of their donations. Naturally, it costs more to identify, cultivate, and solicit a broad base of Pipeline donors. You can expect investment in the Pipeline stage to be disproportionate to the amount Pipeline prospects donate.  However, this spending is crucial for developing valuable program initiatives such as increasing participation rates and continuously developing new Evergreen donors. Despite its cost, fundraising in this category should be considered a valuable and necessary investment for the future.

Great fundraising teams focus on the areas where they can get the highest return on investment. Our industry research report walks you through How to Improve Your Fundraising ROI


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