How to Raise Major Gifts for Annual and Capital Campaigns w/Amy Eisenstein

Amy EisensteinAmy Eisenstein, ACFRE is the CEO and Co-Founder of the Capital Campaign Toolkit. She is also a consultant, speaker, author, and trainer with Amy Eisenstein, LLC. Her published books include: Major Gift Fundraising for Small Shops, and 50 A$ks in 50 Weeks. Amy served as president of the AFP-NJ Chapter in 2014 and 2015 and received the AFP New Jersey Consultant of the Year award in 2019. She became a CFRE in 2004 and received the ACFRE in 2013. She blogs at and

All donors do not give equal amounts of money. Focusing on top donors will enable you to raise more money efficiently and effectively. In order to raise more money every year, leverage tools and techniques used in capital campaigns to raise major gifts for your annual fund.


Read the Interview

Hugh Ballou: This is Hugh Ballou. Welcome to this edition of The Nonprofit Exchange. It’s a show where we interview thought leaders, people who have special expertise to share. Today, we have Amy Eisenstein. You have what I think is a really important topic: how to raise major gifts for annual and capital campaigns. Amy, there are probably a couple people who don’t know your name yet, so tell us a little bit about you and what you have learned and what you bring to the table in your work and what your passion is for doing this.

Amy Eisenstein: I have been doing this for a long time. Over 20 years now. I started my fundraising career in small and large nonprofits actually. I spent a decade working as a development director, on the front lines, raising gifts of all sizes from all types of donors for all types of organizations before becoming a consultant. We were talking a little bit about why people do this,what’s their passion. I have to say that I don’t know anybody who grows up dreaming of being a fundraiser. I certainly didn’t. Most people fall into it one way or another because they are passionate about a cause or they want to change the world in some way. Working in different nonprofits, I have found that the best way to help that organization is to raise a lot of money. That is how organizations, a variety of ways, but that is certainly one of the ways organizations help fulfill their mission. That is why I do what I do. 

Hugh: When you’re talking about it, I can see this little gleam in your eye and this enthusiasm in your spirit. It’s more than a little actually. I do find that people who are very good in your field enjoy what they do because they see the value in connecting people who have some wealth, who want to make a difference with that wealth.

Amy: That’s exactly right. I do think of myself and the fundraisers that I teach to raise major gifts as matchmakers. They are matchmakers between people who have means to invest and the causes that those people are passionate about. You started to ask me how I got into this. The consulting part of my career, the last decade plus, I have been writing, teaching, training, speaking mostly about major gifts and capital campaigns because those are the two real drivers of fundraising for organizations after annual funds and base for support.

Hugh: We are going to dig into this a little more. People can find you at Is that right? 

Amy: Yeah, that’s one of my websites. If they are interested in a capital campaign, that’s it. If it’s more major gifts, then it’s 

Hugh: We will have those on the page. I’ve worked with all manner of nonprofits for 32 years. Many times, they are a start-up or very small. That’s why I founded SynerVision Leadership Foundation: to provide some of those resources for board development, strategy, leadership development, those things that make your work successful. People have this dream, and they want to launch it. They can’t ask people for money. Why is that so hard for people? There is a barrier, thinking there is something taboo about the subject of money. It’s not really asking for money, is it?

Amy: Yes and no. We live in a culture where it is taboo to talk about money. More so than all sorts of other things that maybe shouldn’t be taboo. But money is a tough topic. We were growing up with all sorts of negative connotations. Money doesn’t grow on trees. Greed. Negative connotations about money. It is really hard for a lot of people to think about asking for money. One of the things that I’m focused on in my teachings is that you’re not asking for yourself. The reality is that you’re not even asking for money. You’re asking for impact. If people can focus on asking for impact, like asking a donor to help make sure that 10 kids get off the waiting list for an after school program, then you can have a conversation about how much that costs. You’re not specifically asking for money; you’re asking for impact. That’s actually much easier for people to do.

Hugh: That’s a paradigm shift, isn’t it? We’re not asking for money; we’re talking about the impact of your gift. Is that right?

Amy: That’s absolutely right. I think that’s exactly right in terms of a paradigm shift. I always talk about a change in attitude. People need to change the way they think and not think that fundraising is negative. Get rid of all of the negative associations you make with fundraising, that you’re twisting someone’s arm or guilting someone into it. Instead, fundraising is about inspiring people to invest in important causes. 

Hugh: We have some professional fundraisers watching. They’re interested to see what’s going on with you. You have quite a reputation. I see your online presence, and you are gifted at presenting yourself in a way that is proper, but it’s in a manner where people really know why they need you. Before we end this interview today, I’m going to ask you about the toolkit. But let’s start with- We’re talking about an annual and a capital campaign. Maybe we ought to distinguish the difference between those two.

Amy: I think a lot of people are confused by the difference between annual and capital. Anything that you’re raising for annual funds is money that you need to spend in this fiscal year, in this budget. It’s short-term. It’s for one year. If you’re going to use an analogy of a house, your annual fund expenses would be the heating, electricity, grocery bills, program salaries, rent, heat, electrical, those types of things. 

Capital is for longer-term needs. When you think about a capital fundraising, sometimes it is a building. Often it is a building, and that is actually how we traditionally think about capital. But it can also be for start-up long-term programs and services, equipment. Back to the house analogy quickly. If your house needs a new roof or a new hot water heater, something that will last 10 years, that would be capital expenses, but it can also be endowment, scholarship, anything that gets your program from one level of programs and services to the next level. You might think about fundraising for a capital campaign when you’re ready to take your organization to the next level of service. You can fundraise with major gifts for an annual fund or campaign or a capital campaign. It’s just a matter of what you’re going to use the money for.

Hugh: Is there an issue with timing with either of those, either the time of year or the life of the organization? 

Amy: I don’t think so. An annual fund starts and stops every 12 months depending on what your fiscal life cycle is. Your fiscal year may not be the same as what a donor is thinking about in terms of taxes or year-end, so be aware and conscious of that. No, I think a capital campaign probably wouldn’t happen until an organization is at least a few years old, and they have some annual fundraising and programs and services under their belt. I don’t think there is a timing issue there, except that a capital campaign is generally multi-year, and an annual fund is within a single year.

Hugh: I was seeing an interview with one of our Congressmen in D.C. The subject of funding came up. He was saying from the minute he is in office, he is in an active state of fundraising to raise the money for his next election. He said the party requires he raise this much money. I think part of the timing is that we realize that we are always talking about the value proposition, what we bring to the world. We’re always telling people what the impact is of what we have done so far. Then we have gotten to a place where we can make the ask. We have to say, “This is what we need,” and make a specific position. Talk about the value proposition that attracts different funders. How do we have this conversation with people to understand what they’re interested in? We don’t want to be barking up the wrong tree. We want to talk to people who will support our cause.

Amy: Absolutely. One of the questions that I get asked most frequently as a consultant is, “Can you help me find major donors? Can you help me find new donors?” The issue that organizations face is that they really don’t understand that their best major gifts prospective donors for their organization are already supporters of their cause, in their local community, or in their sphere of networks. Never are major donors people that are out there, which is a myth, a misconception, that organizations think that if we only had access to Bill Gates or Oprah Winfrey or whatever philanthropist you might have in mind, that we’d be fine. But the reality is that organizations that raise major gifts know that those major donors are coming from their own community of existing donors and supporters. If you’re starting there, then the value proposition is that those people you already know support your cause, at least a little bit. They may be small donors. They may be low-level donors. But what you are looking for is people who have a passion for the mission of your organization. One way in addition to looking at your existing donor database for people who support you, for people who have been long-time supporters is that you go on a listening tour and talk to the people in your community and ask them why they care. What difference does it make? How would they feel if you weren’t here? You learn what the value proposition is for them. How important is your cause to them? Usually that is what starts the donor relationship.

Hugh: Two things come up in listening to your words. I want to define what a major gift is. Explain that. Then this listening tour. That’s fascinating. The concept, explain how that works. Major gifts and listening tour.

Amy: Usually I start with defining a major gift. I’m glad you asked. The reality is that a major gift is different at any organization, and if you’re looking at it from the perspective of a donor, it’s different to every donor. Let’s look at it from the perspective of a nonprofit organization. To me, a major gift at an organization needs to be defined and can be defined in a few different ways. One is if you have no other way to define what a major gift is, then what I want you to think about is when you open a check from a donor that comes to your annual fund, and it causes you to jump for joy and run down the hall to tell your colleagues, clearly that is a major gift for you. 

But all kidding aside, what a major gift is, I want you to think about if you spend the time to go out and talk to a donor and sit down for coffee and ask for a certain level gift, is that worth your time? I would ask you to think about is it worth your time to go out and ask a donor for $1,000? Is that a good use of your time? For some of you, yes, that is a great use of our time. $1,000 is rare for us; we don’t often get gifts of that size. That’s a major gift for your organization. If you’re thinking, No, we get enough of those in the mail, online, through events, maybe a major gift at your organization starts at $5,000, $10,000,or $50,000 depending on where you are.

One of my jobs was at Rutgers University. There, we talked about a major gift being at the $25,000 level. Right down from the road from Rutgers is Princeton. They didn’t start talking about a major gift until $100,000 or more. This was over a decade ago. I’m sure it’s a million now. You need to be aware of who is in your database, who is on your board, who you have connections with, and the donors that are currently in your database, that will help define what a major gift is at your organization. It’s a gift that moves the needle, that makes a difference, that has an impact.

Hugh: That’s a good lesson, not to overlook anybody. Some of the least suspecting people have means. 

Amy: Yeah. To me, the really important key people to look for in your database are those who have been loyal donors, who have given once or twice a year over a period of years, three, four, five, ten years. At any level. I don’t care if they have given $50 a year, $100 a year. Any level. I want to know who they are, what their capacity is. Maybe they haven’t given any more because you haven’t asked for more, but they are extremely loyal to your cause or your mission.

Hugh: I worked for a mega-church in Atlanta one time. The preacher had made 14 visits to raise $18 million. He had a specific ask. Then he read in the paper months later after construction had started that one person had given a major sum to a university, and they had named the building after him. He said, “I’m sorry I asked you for too small an amount.” That was at the other end. Underneath that, there was a relationship that had been built for many years. 20 years. 

Amy: I’m glad you say that. I think that’s an important point. Sometimes, organizations will look at their donors and say, “My donor XYZ is giving a million dollars to the hospital down the street, but is only giving $1,000 to us.” I’ll say, “Right now, you have a $1,000 relationship with that donor. You don’t have a million dollar relationship. What you will do to build that relationship is up to you. Maybe someday, that donor will give you a million dollars, too. Right now, that’s not how they see themselves interacting with your organization.”

Hugh: Sometimes it seems that people of substance want to test you by giving you a smaller amount. It’s like a first time getting a grant from an organization, they will give you a smaller amount. If that goes well, they will consider you for a larger amount. The due diligence. Talk about building the relationship from a smaller donor to a larger donor. What are the elements that help them become more worthy in their eyes? 

Amy: Let’s go back quickly. I think this addresses your question about a listening tour. I like to have development directors, people who are just getting into fundraising and don’t know how to get major gifts. To me, the first visit with a donor is a listening tour. It’s up to the development director to learn as much as they can about their donor. Where their interests and passions might overlap with the organization. I used to think, when I was just getting into fundraising, that it was my job to go out and tell donors everything I knew about the organization: facts, figures, stories. I would ramble on for 45 minutes or sometimes an hour. How do you think the donor felt after I left? They’re bored. They tuned out. You can imagine. Nobody wants to be lectured at for 35 or 40 minutes, even though I was telling them these passionate stories about the organization. That wasn’t the point of the meeting. I missed the point. I didn’t get big gifts until I figured out fundraising is about good listening. 

There is an expression in fundraising that you listen your way to a gift. I think most people don’t really understand what that means. But it’s about learning enough about the person sitting across from you to understand what would really make them feel great. When fundraising is done well, the donor feels great about their gift. I want you to think when you’re asking for a gift if the next day, the donor is saying, “Ugh, Amy really shook me down. She guilted me into doing this. I’m never going to pick up the phone when Amy calls again,” or are they going to say, “You know, I did the most amazing thing yesterday. Yes, it has nothing to do with giving away $5,000. It has to do with the kids I’m helping or the people I’m feeding or the animals I’m saving or the disease I’m curing. I feel really good about it.” You know you have done fundraising right when you have listened your way to a gift so you can connect the dots in terms of what would make the donor, the person right in front of you, grateful that you have helped them invest their money in the community in the way that you are. 

Hugh: I was part of a church staff. They hired a fundraiser to do a capital campaign. Someone said, “Giving feels good.” To your point on the donor should feel like they have done something significant.

The listening campaign. Who do you listen to? 

Amy: You listen to your donors. Your biggest potential donors. I always tell development directors that part of the challenge when I go into an organization and I see they are not raising major gifts or well, they are so often busy cultivating building relationships with all their donors that they really are not making headway with anybody. My best advice is to pick your top 20 prospective donors. Figure out who in your database is most likely to give you another big gift or significantly increase their gift. We’re not starting from scratch. We’re not starting with new people. We’re starting with your existing donors and asking how we can engage them more fully. Pick 20 people for the next six months, and get to know them. Go out and listen to their stories. Get to know why they give, why they started to give to your organization, why they care about your cause, and what would motivate them to get more involved in a bigger, deeper way.

Hugh: What is the percentage of the conversation that you’re listening and they’re talking? What percentage do you listen or talk?

Amy: I would say that if it’s a one-on-one, just two people, that you as the fundraiser should be talking no more than 30-35% of the time max. The person sitting across from you should be doing 70% of the talking. The way that happens is you ask open-ended questions. You don’t want to ask, “Do you like our organization?” The answer is yes or no. That’s a closed question and doesn’t lead to conversation. But you can ask, “What do you like the most about our organization?” or “What would you like to see improved at our organization?” Ask an open-ended question. My rule of thumb is if you hear yourself talking more than five minutes straight, it’s time to stop and ask a question. The person sitting across from you is about to zone out. Don’t think about it like a presentation. You’re going in to have a conversation.

Hugh: Part of that is how you set up your appointment. Sometimes I have gone to listen to the person, and they want us to make a request, ask for the sale. It’s the first time.

Amy: You should be prepared to do that. Listen, in general, you don’t want to ask for a gift on the first visit. However, when a donor says, “How can I help? What do you need? What do you want?” you need to be prepared to answer that question. Don’t say, “I’ll get back to you.” You haven’t done your homework or research. That’s not a good answer. Know what you want to ask them for and if they say, “How may I help?” say, “I’m so glad you asked. We’d love your help. This is the thing we’re looking for.” 

Hugh: Development people have this stage they call cultivation. Explain that a little bit. My mama taught me to be a gentleman. There are certain things you do on a first date. You’re so right. I was not prepared for that question. There are different stages of building relationships. I have become acquainted with that recently. Cultivation. Would you explain that in development terms? 

Amy: There are four steps in the fundraising cycle. Cultivation is step number two. Let me put it in context. When you are raising major gifts or any type of fundraising, this fundraising cycle applies. The first is donor identification. Who are we raising money from? Who might we raise money from? #2 is cultivation. That is the relationship building phase. That is when you get to know the donor, and they get to know your organization. Step #3 is solicitation. That is the actual ask. Step #4 is stewardship. That is the follow-up, the thank you, the gratitude. 

Let me give you two quick examples of how this fundraising cycle works. Then we can talk a little about cultivation. Let’s say that you are selling a gala ticket or raffle ticket or golf ticket. You ask your board members to help you sell those tickets. They identify their next-door neighbor. They don’t need to build a relationship because they have lived next to this person for 20 years. They go next door, knock on the door, and ask, “Will you buy this ticket?” The person says yes. They say, “Thank you very much.” All four steps, the whole process is done in six minutes. That is one type of fundraising. 

Then you have major gifts. If you want to raise $10,000 from somebody, you may need to think about in terms of step one, donor identification, who can and might give our organization $10,000. Who do we know in the community who could do that? Who is connected to us? Who is passionate about us? This might take a few committee meetings, some research, looking in your database to for a few months of who could we potentially raise $10,000 from. 

Step two with cultivation. Now you have a list of five or ten or twenty people. Now you need to build relationships with these people. We need to introduce them to our organization. Maybe we need to give them a tour of our organization if that’s appropriate. We need to introduce them to the executive director or the CEO. They may need to meet some clients. We need to go on a listening tour with them. We need to invite them to volunteer. That’s what cultivation is about. It’s building a relationship between a potential donor and the organization. What are you going to do to engage them, to get them involved, to get them to care more? 

Once you do that for a few months, it’s time to ask. You sit down in person. If you’re raising a major gift, you sit down in person with them at their home or office. You say, “Here’s the impact we think you want to have. Here’s what it costs. Would you consider that? We think you want to help find a cure for cancer. We’re hiring additional researchers. We’re hoping you can help contribute to supporting that person.” Whatever your ask is going to be. 

If they make the gift, or even if they don’t, you will thank them, follow up, and let them know how their gift was used. That is the stewardship part. That fundraising might take a year. If you are in an annual campaign and are raising major gifts, donor identification, cultivation, solicitation, it is only one moment in time. Through that one-year process, the solicitation was actually a 45-minute meeting. I have a graphic when I am doing speaking or board retreats. I facilitate a lot of those. I show the ask is only 45 minutes out of a year-long process. Most board members and staff don’t understand the fundraising process. There is so much more to fundraising than just the ask.

Hugh: It’s being smart. A smart ask. Articulating that carefully. You mentioned the board. It would occur to me that part of your listening tour would be to listen to the board, see who they know, and see what interactions they have had with donors. Elaborate on that if you think that is part of the listening tour. 

Amy: Absolutely. I think you should be meeting with your donors and getting feedback from them and recommendations and advice at least on an annual basis, especially if you are new at an organization. You should be sitting down with every new board member to ask them why they serve, why they got involved, how they got involved, what their experience has been like, what they’d like to do. You should definitely go on a listening tour with all your board members.

Hugh: I know with grant applications, they want to look at board engagement more than donor consistency. They want to see active board members. We like to think executives like to think that the board members will be part of the fundraising campaign. That is idealistic thinking, but there is a part they play in all of this. A lot of people have this thing about money. They don’t want to ask their contacts for money because they don’t want to beg. How do you empower the board members to find a role in this continuum of giving? 

Amy: The first step is that everybody needs to give. That’s the first step in creating a culture of philanthropy, ensuring that your organization can raise major gifts. The board needs to lead by example. That means that everybody needs to make a meaningful and significant gift for their own personal budget. That is different for everybody. For some people, that might mean $100. For others, it might mean $100,000. Every board member should be making a significant and meaningful gift for them. 

That being said, the next step, after everybody gives, is that everybody needs to help with fundraising. Ten years ago, I would have said that every board member needs to ask. I don’t believe that to be the case. If you look back at the four steps of fundraising, every board member needs to do something to help. For some, it might be helping with making thank-you calls or sending letters. That is the stewardship piece. Others might be able to identify donors or introduce their organization to their network, and they don’t want to ask. Others can help with cultivation and relationship building, so going on tours, meeting with individual donors. A few board members who are good at it and interested in it can help with the actual asking. 

Hugh: That sounds like you have been in the real world. You focus a lot of time and attention in your writing, books and blog and speaking, about major gifts. Why are major gifts important? Why do nonprofit leaders have such a hard time raising major gifts?

Amy: I think nonprofit leaders have such a hard time raising major gifts because of this stigma, this thing that we grew up with that it is not polite to talk about money. They are unfamiliar and uncomfortable with talking about money. Frequently, those people working in the nonprofit sector, this isn’t always true, so I might get dinged for saying this. People working in the nonprofit sector usually aren’t wealthy themselves. The idea of money makes people uncomfortable. The idea of asking for more money than you could give yourself is a hard concept for a lot of people to understand. Just because you personally couldn’t give $10,000 doesn’t mean that other people wouldn’t happily do that. It is a hard bridge sometimes to pass to get to that place where you just get to the point where your cause and your mission and your programs are too important for you not to be out there asking for major gifts. 

One of the reasons that I think raising major gits is really hard is because it is the only type of fundraising not driven by deadlines. With grants, you know what you’re supposed to do. There is research. There is an application. There are deadlines. You do it. With fundraising, people are familiar with events. They have experienced going to and planning events. There is a deadline. The event is coming up. With major gift fundraising, nobody is waiting on the other end of the phone for you to call. You can put it off until the cows come home. Unless there is some sort of internal accountability system, there are no deadlines. It’s uncomfortable. I think that’s why organizations have such a hard time with it. It takes a real discipline to do it.

Hugh: Psychologists call it the money shadow. Dr. David Gruder has written courses on it. It’s the negative stuff we tell ourselves about money. When you go to talk to somebody, it works against you because they can sense something about it. There is a mindset about this work. We believe in it. We dedicate our lives to it. Dave Palotta has this TED Talk about how we think charity is dead wrong. It’s a paradigm of nonprofit. We pay people too little money and drive them way too hard and burn them out, which is a huge crisis. He talks about the myths. One of them is the myth of overhead. How often does that come up in a donor conversation with major gifts?

Amy: Sometimes it does, and sometimes it doesn’t. Really savvy donors and philanthropists are educated at this point on overhead. Some people still don’t understand the need for it. I think it’s something that we in the nonprofit sector have a responsibility to educate people on. There is a cost of doing business, both in businesses and in nonprofits. Without overhead, people are expecting us to solve the world’s biggest problems: homelessness, poverty, disease, education, all sorts of huge issues, without having the tools and resources and staffing to do it, is just probably why we are still where we are and haven’t gotten farther. Too many people believe this poverty mentality, that a nonprofit should be impoverished. To me, I want the best people working on solving the world’s biggest problems. I think we need to pay them a fair wage and give them tools and resources and current computers to help them succeed in solving the world’s biggest problems. I think overhead is absolutely paramount. Without overhead, you can’t do an analysis of your programs and services, so you don’t know if they’re working or not. Sometimes, donors will favor an organization because that organization is saying they don’t have any overhead, or 5%. When was the last time you evaluated your programs and services? Do you even know if they’re working? To me, I’d much rather see an organization that is being run effectively and does spend money to attract the best talent and uses the latest resources.

Hugh: In thinking about a major gift and capital campaign, I know grant writers who are very effective build an administrative cost to administer a grant. Otherwise, it will cost the organization money to deliver whatever service it is. Some directors are including capacity building to do infrastructure repair and improvements. When you’re getting a major capital campaign for a building, there is a major maintenance thing. Is there part of a campaign that is a major maintenance accrual account? How do you think about the liability you’re creating with that? 

Amy: I think organizations need to plan well and articulate their needs adequately to donors, including the cost of fundraising, which is overhead. Whenever we are doing a capital campaign budget, we alway build in 10% at least for a fundraising budget for the capital campaign. To think that organizations can raise 5x, 10x, 20x what they do on an annual basis with no additional staff or resources is not realistic. It is important to explain to donors that there is a cost to raising money and to operating programs and services. 

Hugh: That is just being upfront about it and knowing how to talk about it without feeling embarrassed or making excuses for good stewardship. The stewardship is the fourth piece. To me, that means managing the money and reporting on it, but also the way you set it up, it’s like a continuation of the cultivation post-donation. Our sponsor is WordSprint, who does mailing campaigns. He sees donations go up because it’s the right message to the right person in the right rhythm. 30/30/30/ 10% is appearance. It’s telling people what’s happened with their money. You’re cultivating for the next stage of giving, to continue that person’s relationship. Talk more about the fourth stage.

Amy: That’s right. 

Hugh: Anything else you want to add to that?

Amy: No, I think that’s good for now.

Hugh: People forget to thank people when you want to continue talking about the work you have done with the money. Money has transmuted into other energy.

Amy: That’s right. I always say. There is the rule of seven thank-yous. I don’t know if that’s the right number. You should be thanking people in multiple ways from various people. A board member can send a thank-you note. The executive director can make a thank-you call. The development director can send an email. The bottom line is that you need to thank in the way that you asked. If you sat down with someone and asked them for a gift, in addition to the phone call and thank-you letter and email, you want to sit down with them again two, three, six months later and let them know how their money was used and thank them again in person, if that’s how you asked. You always want to tell people how their money was used.

Hugh: I hadn’t thought about seven ways, and I hadn’t thought about a personal visit. That’s a major gift. 

Amy: If you took the time to ask in person, you better take the time to thank in person. You may have noticed that when I said if you’re asking for a major gift, you should do it in their home or office, where they are comfortable. Lots of people think that you are supposed to ask for a gift in a restaurant. For me, that is a horrible place to ask because there is interruptions, distractions. People right next to you at the table. Ordering. But you can thank in a restaurant. After you have the gift and are going back to tell people how their money was used, you can take them to a thank-you lunch. That is the time to take somebody out to lunch, not when you are asking for a gift. But when you are thanking them.

Hugh: They’re comfortable there at their home. This interview is chock-full of really good ideas. What are some capital campaign tools that nonprofits can apply to raising major gifts? This isn’t a selling interview, but I don’t know anybody who doesn’t want to call you about engagement after listening to this. You have this down. You are the queen of fundraising. What tools do people need generically? Then do you want to tell us a bit about the toolkit?

Amy: Sure, thank you. I think there is a fair amount of overlap in the way that you identify donors, cultivate them, solicit them, ask for a gift, and steward them, in major gifts on an annual basis and for a capital campaign. But there are tools traditionally used in capital campaigns that can be applied to major gift fundraising for annual funds. Two of those tools are something I would call a gift range chart and a depth chart. The gift range chart tells us how many gifts at what levels we need to get to a certain goal. In a capital campaign, say you are raising a million dollars. Start with a small round number. You would need one gift of $200,000 and two or three gifts of $100,000. And so on and so forth. You would know exactly how many gifts at each level you need to get to your goal. There is no reason you shouldn’t use a gift range chart in your regular fundraising for your annual fund. Let’s say you want to raise $100,000 annually. You could apply the same principles and use the same type of tool.

The second tool is called a depth chart. That actually adds individuals’ specific names to each level of gift that you need. Let’s say in my example you need a gift of $200,000. You need one gift. The debt chart would be where you put the potential donors’ names down and say, “Okay, these are the two people who can and might give us a gift of $200,000. We are going to put their names connected to that gift potential on that depth chart so we know who we’re going to ask this year for that size gift.” Those are the two tools I would highlight. I think they are road maps to a capital campaign. Those are two of the key tools to a successful capital campaign, and they can be easily applied to a regular major gift campaign as well.

Hugh: How does your mental attitude help with all of this? You put some positive energy on this person can do this. There have been historic authors and speakers, starting with Napoleon Hill, and Jim Rohn, and others who have talked about how a mental attitude helps things happen.

Amy: I think you were asking about how the attitude of the asker impacts the donor? To me, I think it is all about attitude. I actually have a keynote that I give called “Happiness, Habits, and Major Gift Fundraising: Strategies to Survive and Thrive.” Because I do think that your positive attitude really significantly affects and impacts the way you’re able to fundraise. One example I give is how you ask a question. One person says, “Do you want to meet?” The donor says, “No, I don’t want to meet.” Another fundraiser says, “When can we meet?” It’s a tiny shift in the language, but the outcome is very different. Do you want to meet versus when can we meet? All sorts of subtle language changes and attitude going from assuming that the donor does want to do something versus assuming the donor doesn’t want to do something. Fundraisers in the field say, “Ugh, I don’t think they want to talk to me. Nobody picks up the phone. Calling is so awful.” Others say, “The donor can’t wait to talk to me. They’re just busy. They have other things going on. But when I get through, it will be amazing.” I don’t think that was as articulate as I’d like it to be, but that’s my long answer.

Hugh: Don’t ask a yes or no question is what I’m taking away. I get more cheeky. I say, “Can you meet Tuesday afternoon, or do you have a better day?” I go ahead and put it in some context  so they can say yes or no. When can we meet next week? Is how you are saying to do it. Any more you want to say about when an organization is ready to consider a capital campaign? Have you said most of what you want to say so far?

Amy: I think that organizations should think about having a capital campaign when they are ready to move their programs and services to the next level, to really make a leap in what they are able to provide and accomplish. Sometimes, that comes in the form of needing a new building. Sometimes it doesn’t. I want organizations to think about capital campaigns as capacity campaigns. Are you ready to take your programs and services to a new level of service, a new geographic area, a new expansion of how you provide your services or who you can provide your services to. That is when it’s time to consider a capital campaign.

Hugh: *Sponsor message from Wordsprint*

Amy Eisenstein, or You have a capital toolkit. Can they find it on the website? What is your final thought you want to leave people with?

Amy: Anybody considering a capital campaign, I hope you’ll visit me at You can sign up for a free strategy session to discuss your campaign. It’s a new, innovative, online platform that provides all the templates, resources, guidance, and support you will need for a campaign. 

Hugh: What do you want to leave us with, Amy?

Amy: If you are struggling with major gifts or haven’t gotten into major gift fundraising yet, it is time. You will be left behind in the fundraising world, and that is where the future of fundraising is. There is a free major gift challenge on You can sign up and do one thing. It’s one thing every single week, no matter if you are having a gala or your grant deadline is due. Moving the needle by doing one thing in each of the four steps we talked about, be it identifying donors, cultivating them, soliciting, or stewarding them. One thing every single week to raise major gifts. The major gifts challenge walks you through exactly what to do. It’s free and tells you how to raise major gifts.

Hugh: Amy, thank you for such helpful information. 

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