Joyous Giving

I spend a lot of time thinking about the difference between annual and major gifts.  You know—annual are those gifts you get year after year after year.  Except you don’t, of course.  Attrition rates, at least for small nonprofits, are horrific with more than 60% of all first time donors never making a second gift; and the attrition isn’t much better from there on. So annual.  And then major gifts are those that are more than (fill in the blank).  But some of those major gifts are also annual gifts and others are just a fluke.

Instead, I focus on ways to get those gifts.  Arms-length, transactional, relational.

Annual gifts, of any size, are typically gotten because of arms-length and/or transactional methods.  You send out a message; an invitation to an event; a newsletter, an e-newsblast. Or you post on social media, or buy an ad.  In return, you get gifts—typically small, generally unrestricted, often randomly.

Relational fundraising generally means being physically closer to your donors, except if you are doing peer-to-peer fundraising.  And it generally brings in larger individual gifts.  Except, of course, if you are doing peer-to-peer fundraising.

The real difference, I find, is in the focus—what we are asking for.  No, not whether it is a restricted gift or not, but rather whether we are asking for our needs or working with a donor to find out what is meaningful to him or her and how we might create an opportunity that will not just appeal but positively make the donor glow with excitement.

Don’t give me that look.  I believe that great gifts come because they bring the donor joy.  Giving does that, but giving a gift that truly will transform (OK, an overused but useful word) an organization or a cause is, well, joyous.

Think about the large gifts people make to name a building, a wing, a classroom.  Sure.  Maybe they are egotistical jerks who love seeing their name up in lights.  But perhaps they just love the feeling they get when they see how their generosity has created change or made a positive impact.

Great and joyous gifts don’t typically happen during the normal course of doing business.  Donors don’t walk up and say, “You know, I’m really interested in…..” It takes work.  And it takes time.

The work is in getting to know your donor’s philanthropic interests, and in teasing out of them what it is they hope to accomplish.  It takes creating programs, initiatives, naming opportunities that will appeal and propel a donor to make a large commitment.

It means asking a lot of questions.  Listening hard.  Being transparent about your purpose.  And it means believing, unequivocally, that your organization, your cause, mission, purpose, is worthy of such support.

And mostly it means getting away from your computer and into the homes and offices of your donors and prospects.


Janet Levine Consulting helps nonprofit organizations move from mired to inspired—and to getting larger gifts.  Learn more at and do contact Janet for a free, 30-minute consultation.