As a featured speaker at this year’s Compass Conference sponsored by the Greater Philadelphia Chapter of the Association of Fundraising Professionals, I had the privilege of presenting a series of eight authentic donor stories, “Best Practices in Major Gift Fundraising” illustrating key principles in the cultivation and solicitation of significant gifts. Today’s installment, “I Don’t Want to Be the Only One!”—third in our series—demonstrates the importance of “many.”

A young and dynamic independent school was in the early phase of a capital campaign. They met with a parent who has significant philanthropic capacity and who had been truly pleased with his child’s experience at the school. He was willing to make a seven-figure commitment—but only if others would “step up.”

A long-term trustee at another independent school made the leading gift to the School’s last campaign. He has been deeply involved in planning for the new campaign—but wants to see others make leadership gifts before making his own commitment.

What lessons can we take from these scenarios?

1. Major donors want us to leverage their gifts for greater impact.
Both donors were more than capable of making leadership gifts to their respective schools. But clearly, they wanted to leverage their support to have the greatest possible impact—not just to raise more money, but to help the schools build cultures of philanthropy, where major donors rally together to achieve the campaigns’ goals.

2. Individual donors don’t want us to be overly dependent on their support.
Overdependence on any given donor’s support creates a level of “obligation” that is uncomfortable for many donors. Increasingly we have observed donors who will make a given organization a philanthropic priority for a period of time, but want to be free to include other charities in their giving plans as their interests evolve.

3. Conveying a message of strength and growth is critical. Finally, it is our job as development officers to create messaging and materials that describe how our organizations are continuing to grow the ranks of donors and supporters year over year. Donor listings, leadership-gift-society events and meaningful recognition for major gifts convey to donors that they are part of a successful and growing enterprise. People want to be part of a winning organization, and your organization’s philanthropic growth will validate the decisions of donors who have made major philanthropic investments. Success breeds success and will lead to renewed gifts.