What is the likely size of a first time donor?

The quick answer is 5 ft 10 in., but I jest.

The fundraising legend himself, Jerry Panas. reported in 2017 “When Harvard did a study after their last campaign, of their 254 million-dollar donors, two-thirds started with gifts of $100 or less.

Let’s just dissect that statement for a couple of seconds:

  1. They had over 250 donors who gave $1,000,000 — for those of you that are mathematically challenged, that is $250 million, or one-quarter of a billion dollars!!!!
  2. Two out of three donors started giving to Harvard with a gift of $100 or less. This just reconfirms my theory that you may not need to add more donors to your ‘database’, rather you just need to foster better relationships with the donors that are already on file.

This also re-affirms the theory that you shouldn’t ask for a major gift (I would have to assume that $1,000,000 would be major, even for Harvard) at the first ask. The donor needs to be cultivated until they make their first gift (remember, most times the first gift is a test to see what the institution will do with the funds that they have entrusted to you) and then stewarded for the next gift.