Is it time to retire the phrase “major gift?”

By: Sheela Nimishakavi, MA, MPH

A couple of weeks ago, my husband and I took a trip up to New York City to celebrate his birthday. It was a long weekend filled with tons of laughter, friends, family and oh so much food! We’re talking the best falafels ever, pizza at the famous Juliana’s in Brooklyn, macarons from Laduree…the list goes on.

One of the highlights of this trip, though, was our tour of the Statue of Liberty. We had an amazing tour guide- shout out to Zack!- who gave us tons of fun facts. I’ll be ‘entertaining’ friends with “Did you know…” tidbits for months, I’m sure.

As we walked through the museum, Zack dove into the history of funding the massive undertaking that crafting, transporting and assembling the Statue of Liberty entailed. It was decided early on that France would fund the statue itself, but the US would be responsible for the pedestal.

Unfortunately, no one was stepping up to the charge of funding this project. The bigwigs at the time were hesitant to get involved. But, this statue representing change, hope, opportunity and freedom, resonated with the public at large.

So, when Joseph Pulitzer- yea, that Pulitzer- posted an ad in the newspaper asking for donations, the money came flooding in. These were not large gifts, though. Rather, people from all over the country gave what they could just to be a part of this amazing project. My favorite story is of two twin girls who gave their life savings- a whopping fifty cents!- to be a part of this movement.

This story got me thinking. Fifty cents doesn’t sound like very much. No one would consider it a major gift. But to these girls, it was everything they had! I’d say that’s pretty major.

And, if we call some gifts “major gifts” what are the other gifts? Minor?

No organization (I hope) has a Minor Gifts Officer.

What message does it send to donors when they know your organization has a Major Gifts Officer, but they are not being contacted by them? While we’re on the topic, can we stop calling them Major Gifts Officers?

Whether $5 or $50,000, all gifts should be treated as “major” gifts. I know it’s not feasible to spend hours of time and resources stewarding every donor. But, are there broad changes you can make to ensure that all your donors feel like their gift was “major?” Can you express so much gratitude that you make $5 feel like $50,000?

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