Is your small charity ready for some million dollar gifts?



            A lot of small not for profit organizations and charities, in their wildest dreams they could not imagine receiving a million dollar gift. If a million dollar gift seems inconceivable to your small charity, this doesn’t mean you can’t acquire a gift that is transformational to your organization. Have your leadership team ponder what level of gift could be transformational for your charity. Don’t sell yourself short do a little blue sky thinking here. The Lilly Family School of Philanthropy at Indiana University published an interesting study assessing institutional readiness to receive million dollar gifts. The study focuses on Universities, it can be hard to compare our small charities fundraising efforts to our local Universities as our organizations and our fundraising program is so different in size and scope. I am sure some of you other nonprofit leaders are thinking the same thing, but bear with me the study does point out some relevant findings (even for a much smaller charity).Some of the findings make a lot of sense, but at least one finding might seem counter-intuitive to some small charity board members or management. A lot of small charities I am familiar with can become concerned that if they do not look poor enough then people won’t make donations to them. I have worked for organizations in which staff or board members were worried that having financial reserves might give the impression to donors that we don’t need their donation. However in this study would not support that type of notion. The researchers found that:” Solid finances attract more gifts. Endowment value in 2001 is positively associated with the number of million dollar gifts received and the value of those gifts.” So in essence it seems that having a lot of money in reserve gave the message that the organization was financially viable and there had been good stewardship of resources.  The researchers went on to describe:” Those that have more get more, according to the Million Dollar Ready Study, which revealed that bigger endowments, more valuable assets and higher levels of government funding at the beginning of the study correlate to big gifts over the 13 year study period.” 

           Another factor which appears to affect the likelihood of receiving million dollar gifts is stability and long tenure in your organizations leadership. The study suggests;” A new president might earn a college or university some headlines, but it’s the long term established leaders who are likely to attract big gifts. According to study results ,having a president in office since the year 2000 is associated with receiving about 18 percent more million dollar gifts than having a president with shorter tenure.”  The study also found that a board that doubled their own giving was likely to create a 5% increase in the number of million dollar gifts.

        Two other quotes that resonated with me, and  are in keeping with the views I described in this post:


“Transformational philanthropy requires a transformational vision, and that vision must be articulated in a way that allows donors to see how student’s lives will be changed.” If your charity is a small charity and not a college, just substitute whatever word you use to describe your user group in this sentence and the meaning is the same for your organization. The researchers go on to describe: “ Invest in excellence and donors will invest in you. As powerful as a strong vision is, it must be partnered by institutional excellence.”


Lilly Family School of Philanthropy (2013) Million Dollar Ready: Assessing the institutional factors the

             lead to transformational gifts: as retrieved from:



2 thoughts on “Is your small charity ready for some million dollar gifts?

  1. In a previous position I held, we often discussed transformational gifts and how we would use them. It’s good to be prepared to answer a question like, “If, I gave you a million, 5 million, 10 million, how would you use it?”

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