Three Types of Major Gift Karma – Are you taking advantage of all three?

Published by Karen Osborne on

Pay it Forward

I landed my first job in fundraising as an unprepared novice with big responsibilities and a bottom line to achieve. For the past seven years, I’d been home raising two children, doing volunteer work and finishing my college degree. I never heard of the fundraising profession. Yet they hired me as a mid-level manager and tossed me into the deep end of the pool.

What to do?
I searched out fundraisers in the area, hopped into my car, and visited all who would see me – which was everyone I called. They shared, mentored, commiserated.

Major gift work is complex, challenging, and mission critical. I know we’ve all benefitted from the generosity of others. While it is important to thank and steward one’s mentors and helping hands, helping others is even more essential.

karmaWriting for blog platforms like 101fundraising, staffing or teaching at conferences like AFP, CASE, IFC, being on the other end of the phone with an empathetic ear, are all examples of ways to pay it forward.

Our not for profits desperately need exceptional major gift work. Helping others generates good major gift karma.

Major Donor Karma

We know our donors have a list of charities. The rare person only gives to one. We often think of our donor’s list as our competition. Understandable. The donor has a pool of money he or she wants to give. You try to show how your organization is the most deserving, or at least deserving enough to receive a hefty portion of the gift pie.

Major donors, on the other hand, often want to help us solve a societal problem. They love us to collaborate, share strategies, and help them invest their philanthropic dollars in organizations and strategies that will best address the issues they care about most.

I knew a wonderful donor. We all called her Mrs. Smith, not by her first name, because she was elderly, of a generation that cared about formality. She was also quite wealthy. Whenever we visited or she attended a gathering on our campus, she had the development officer from another institution in tow. She, on the other hand, never invited me to his campus.


I reached out. “How might we, working together, help Mrs. Smith achieve her philanthropic goals?” We worked together. Mrs. Smith beamed. When it came time for her to make her gift, our college received the largest portion.

When we focus on the donor’s aspirations and think about our fundraising as solving a societal problem rather than selling our stuff, the results are inevitably better.

You as a Major Gift Investor

Every institution has a definition for a major gift. For some it is as low as 1,000, for others 10,000 and still others 100,000 or more. For your donors, Generosity_lg.250w.tnthe definition varies as well. In my house, a major gift is the amount we’ve agreed to talk over before giving. I have my favorite charities and my husband, Bob, has his. We give as we please without consulting.

Once the amount meets a certain threshold, however, we discuss and decide on Feel Rich Day. We talk through our reasons, the case, the cause, impact and our personal engagement with the organization. We negotiate and then agree. For our larger gifts, it often means deciding to give something up, not to do something, not go somewhere, or not buy something. By the end of Feel Rich Day, we’re broke but happy, feeling richer for the experience.

From a donor point-of-view, a major gift it is what feels major to him or her.

How much would a major gift be for you? Have you ever made a major gift, something sacrificial, and truly generous?

When our generosity includes a major gift, we understand our donors better, how they might think about giving, how it feels to give so much. We become more effective major gift officers and, therefore, more successful for our organizations.

We know that the more one gives away, the more one receives in return.

Generosity generates great Major Gift Karma.



Karen Osborne

Internationally recognized as an expert consultant and excellent presenter, Karen receives invitations from all over the United States and the world to make presentations and consult with NGOs, universities, justice, social service, and health organizations. The Council for Support and Advancement of Education (CASE) awarded Karen the Crystal Apple for outstanding teaching and Ashmore Award for Outstanding Service to the Profession. Published and often quoted in industry books, newspapers and magazines, Karen serves on the board of the Woodrow Wilson National Fellowship Foundation and teaches a graduate course on philanthropy for Johns Hopkins University.


Stacey Prohaska · November 20, 2015 at 15:17

Words of wisdom on a beautiful Friday morning! How important it is to remember that we also need to give. Thank you, Karen!

Karen Wright · November 30, 2015 at 21:09

I’ve learned so much from you! Thanks Karen.

plopblurt · March 1, 2023 at 23:17

The use of stories is a fantastic tool for connecting with the mind, heart, and soul of a donor. It helps people comprehend the influence that your organization has on a level basket random that is both genuine and relatable.

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