Gift Charts Are Fundamental

By Laurence A. Pagnoni, MPA

The adage “If you fail to plan, you plan to fail” applies to gift charts.

A gift chart shows giving levels from low to high and informs fundraisers on how many donors they need at each level of giving to reach the fundraising goal. As such, gift charts are central to careful development planning. They are also useful for all sizes of nonprofits — not just large campaigns or large organizations.

Taking a short amount of time to make, a gift chart will deepen your ability to manage your time and staff resources to focus on reaching the goal.

Origins

Gift charts were originally created by fundraisers getting ready for capital campaigns — they wanted to know how many donors were needed to meet their campaign goals. But now, fundraisers also use them for growing the annual fund, creating cash reserves, and implementing specific, time-limited projects.

A Free Online Gift Chart Calculator

One easy way to make a gift chart is to use an online calculator.

Gift-range calculators provide you with basic estimates of the number and size of donations needed to reach your fundraising goals.

Such estimates are often useful before conducting a planning study or using your nonprofit’s hard donor data because it will give you a sense of how many donors at what giving levels will be required to successfully complete your campaign.

The most accurate gift charts draw on an organization’s hard giving data and are created after the organization conducts a planning study.

Planning studies are often conducted at the highest levels of fundraising because they give the fundraiser a realistic forecast of what is possible to raise. Such studies consist of interviews conducted with select major donors (typically 25 to 125 people) and are usually facilitated by independent fundraising counsel. In addition to in-person interviews, there’s also a digital survey that is sent to non-major donors to capture insight about their giving interests.

Based on the results of these planning studies, more informed gift charts can emerge because during the interviews the donors often share with us the range of their potential giving, and we record that in the gift chart.

Sample Chart

The ranges on your gift chart will depend on the size of your major gift program, your donors’ giving histories, and their capacity to give larger gifts.

For some nonprofits, like the one shown here, smaller ranges of donations are projected (i.e., from $2,500 to $100,000). For others, larger ranges may be called for (i.e., from $10,000 to $5 million).

When we create a gift chart at LAPA, for each giving level, we list the number of gifts needed, number of prospects needed, number of current donors, and number of prospective major donors. Some charts also list new donors to be acquired through prospect research.

How Do You Create Your Own Gift Chart?

Here are the steps to creating your own gift chart:

  1. Identify the range of your gift levels based on past giving. If you don’t know past giving, use a range that aligns with your prospect research data.
  2. Estimate three to five prospective donors for higher gift levels, and upwards of 60-100 for the lower levels.
  3. Identify the highest-level gifts made to your fundraising program to date. Those donors will likely give 20% to 30% of your goal.
  4. Fill in your chart based on what you know about your donors and their capacity to give. Gift amounts should be listed from highest to lowest, and as the level of giving decreases, the number of donors should increase.

Monitoring & Reporting

Use your gift chart as a monitoring and reporting tool to see if you’re securing your “lead” gifts. You can adjust your chart and strategy midcourse as needed to prevent a stalled effort.

Many chief development officers or campaign council directors will share the gift chart with their development or campaign committees to demonstrate what is required to achieve the proposed fundraising goals and what progress has been made to date. Check out this post to read more about how to set a fundraising goal. For example, one recent senior fundraiser was able to predict that her campaign was going to stall if the current rate of giving did not pick-up, and if new donors were not identified. Because she checked her progress against the gift chart, she immediately recommended that new donor prospects be identified, prospects who shared the organization’s values and goals. That action allowed her to complete the campaign on time — and over the goal!

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