John and Leigh Middleton contribute $25 million to PROJECT HOME to create the Middleton Partnership, focusing on collaborative solutions to end chronic homelessness.

The children of John and Chara Haas donate their 39-acre family home, Stoneleigh, to the Natural Lands Trust. “We believe that Natural Lands Trust shares our family’s vision and will work to honor the legacy of our late parents by making the property a rich and unique horticultural resource for the community and region.”

Frances and James Maguire commit more than $5 million to support Gwynedd Mercy University’s College of Nursing. President Kathleen Owen notes, “This extraordinary gift will transform our already excellent nursing program and take it to new levels.”

Each of these gifts could be considered transformational gifts, defined as philanthropic investments that have a major and lasting impact on an organization’s ability to fulfill its mission. If you were asked, would you be able to define what kind of gift would be transformational for your organization? Defining that opportunity is the first step in preparing for transformative philanthropy.

For some organizations, a transformational gift could be $1 million; for others, it might be $100 million. Whatever the amount, research has shown that transformational gifts—and the institutions that receive them—share certain characteristics:

It’s about Impact

Transformational philanthropists want to understand how your organization can address challenging social problems, such as homelessness, climate change or access to quality education. As one young philanthropist said, “I don’t fund organizations, I fund issues.”

As development professionals, we at Schultz & Williams must encourage our clients to understand and articulate their unique impact on society. Mission statements should focus less on the organization and more on values and results. Donors don’t fund you because you have needs; they fund you because you meetneeds.

And donors will be looking for metrics to measure that impact. It’s important to provide a new level of stewardship that goes beyond describing how a gift was used; you must also challenge yourself to measure its impact on individuals and society.

It’s about Leadership

The ability of CEOs and trustees to articulate a compelling vision is essential to attracting transformational gifts. This vision builds on the recognized strengths of your organization and invites donors to invest in expanding your impact. A strong strategic plan—one which can be succinctly stated by everyone within the organization—will position you for success.

Nonprofit leaders must also articulate why their organization is best suited to address a particular challenge. Donors will be looking to partner with well-managed organizations that have a track record of innovation and achievement.

It’s about Partnership

Transformative gifts result from a deep dialogue with donors and from active listening to fully understand donors’ passions, personal needs and philanthropic goals. Transformational donors are likely to have significant input into the programs that they fund, and your organization must be open to that input while also safeguarding your essential mission.

Another kind of collaboration is also increasingly important: collaboration among organizations to address issues. Increasingly, donors understand that the challenges society faces cannot be fully addressed by just one organization; instead, they require the concerted efforts of several organizations. (See this issue’s article on “Nonprofit Collaborations.”)

If you want your organization to be ready for a transformational gift, you need to: articulate a compelling vision grounded in a strategic plan, measure your results and define the next level of impact. Sharing this vision with donors may not yield a $20 million donation, but it will certainly provide a strong foundation to attract more significant gifts.