Major Gifts: Is Patience a Virtue? Cover Image
Buy now

Major Gifts: Is Patience a Virtue?

(Bonus rewrite of Chapter 27 in "Learn From My Experiences")

I have always been fond of the saying “Patience is not simply the ability to wait, it’s how we behave while we’re waiting.” Oh, so true! It is often an accurate truism among nonprofits that unrealistically feel that their development director has an uncanny ability to wave a magic wand and raise major gifts without having first developed or cultivated relationships with his/her donors or prospects.

We live in an age of instant gratification. We absorb news in sound bites. We need our instant coffee, now. We buy express tickets to avoid lines at Disney, we pay for TSA pre-check shortcuts at airports or pay more in HOV express lanes on the highway to speed our way to the next destination. We can’t arrive fast enough to suit ourselves. Sometimes I think we go through life in three phases: fast, faster and faster than that. Whoosh—can you feel the breezy air brush past your face? Some view major gift fundraising in the same way.

I once saw an ad by a nonprofit for a director of development position. Next to the ad it read, “Rainmaker Wanted.” Well, isn’t that special? Wouldn’t we all like to recruit a rainmaker to raise lots of money immediately for the nonprofit organization? I harbor serious concerns about this hyped-up hope. Let’s examine the issue of patience when fundraising for major gifts, shall we?

As we head into the robotic age and the era of artificial intelligence, some aspects of our lives will never be controlled by automatons. Fundraisers will still need to interact between humans and their fellow man and woman. I cannot foresee a robot making a personal appeal for a major gift (see chapter called Fundraising in the Year 2075 in my recent book “Learn From My Experiences”). No, robocalls don’t count.

Job, a well-known Bible character, was said to have unfathomable patience. When someone exhibits great endurance through all kinds of trials and tribulations, annoyances or provocations, we say that person has “the patience of Job.” Fundraisers every so often struggle and face a myriad of challenges, especially when asking for major gifts. I spoke a while ago to a colleague who was about to close on a multi-million-dollar gift for an overseas institution of higher learning. He told me that this donation was “five years in the making.” The donor, in his 80s, was planning this gift as a legacy for his children, grandchildren and great grandchildren. My colleague let on that this ultimate gift went through many twists and turns over the years, and it wasn’t until a recent health scare that he decided the time was right to make the gift. My colleague has the patience of Job.

What also was plain to me was the patience of the nonprofit. It rode the waves with my colleague and factored in that monumental gifts often take time to execute. Of course, in the interim, major gifts were being secured from other philanthropically inclined individuals. They weren’t beholden to just one donor. But not every organization has such patience.

Many years ago, I secured a $5 million bequest for one reason alone. I stewarded a board member who had been all but lost to my nonprofit. This lay leader had not been solicited for advice or counsel, and her stature was ignored for many years by the nonprofit’s board. She once told me, “Norman, I am ready to take my business elsewhere.” Enter a new approach. I made sure that leadership would call her to attend meetings, they elicited her opinion on issues of concern to the organization and she was regularly recognized for her past contributions. It took time, a lot of time, but we won her back, and, once again, she and her family felt like they belonged to the family, in a well-deserved place in the organization.

Winning over an overlooked and ignored board member did not happen overnight. In this case, patience was indeed a virtue. But like all things in life, the relationship took on its own twists and turns. There were times when our neglected board member, whose uncompromising personality often crossed swords with other volatile board members, was ready to bolt. It required tact and diplomacy on a par with a UN statesman to bring her back.

The moral of this story is simple. It often takes time, mental fortitude and physical endurance to shepherd a donor through a major gift process and to keep them in the fold. The effort must be genuine, but is often intense. Understanding this process will usually get you good results.

My question is this: are you willing to be patient, or are you looking for immediate results?

Remember, too, that sixty to eighty percent (60-80%) of individual donor dollars generally come from major gifts to many organizations. But major donors don’t fall out of the sky.  They rarely come to you.  The tooth fairy doesn’t bring them to you.  You have to go and seek them out. And someone has to make “the ask” personally.

Here are just some practical techniques to consider when making the ask for a major gift.

1.           Research, research, research.  It’s like practicing to get to Carnegie Hall. Collect vital information about your prospect that will help you succeed in your quest for a major gift.

2.           Patience, patience, patience. You didn’t walk into college and walk out the next day with your degree, did you? You had to go through a process. So, too, with a major gift.

3.           Relationships, relationships, relationships. Few can match the tall order of walking into a room and going up to a wealthy stranger and walking out with a major gift. Cultivate your benefactors. Steward them. Show them the excellence of your nonprofits work. Match their interests with your proposal. Work the relationship to attain the height of Mt. Everest in major gifts.

4.           Prepare, prepare, prepare. My favorite saying is “proper prior planning prevents poor performance.” Asking for a major gift requires organizing your approach, coordinating with the team to get it right and setting it up for success.

5.           Ask, ask, ask. Half the people in this country give for one reason and one reason alone – someone asked them for a gift. You’re not in the business to be shy. Understand the components of the asking process, inspire your donor and go for it!

6.           Time, time, time. Just be patient. It takes often takes time to corral that major gift. Patience is a virtue.

Winston Churchill once said: “We make a living by what we get. We make a life by what we give.” This idea of a transformative gift is what you want to instill in your major gift donor.

Copyright 2022 Norman B. Gildin. All rights reserved.

About the author: Norman B. Gildin is the author of the recently released book on nonprofit fundraising “Learn From My Experiences.” He is the President of Strategic Fundraising Group whose singular mission is to assist nonprofits raise critical funds for their organization. His website is at