The art of major gift fundraising

Editor’s Note: Gene Tempel, Ed.D., Founding Dean Emeritus of the Lilly Family School of Philanthropy at IUPUI and president emeritus of the Indiana University Foundation, contributed content for this article.

By Abby Rolland, Content Coordinator, the Lilly Family School of Philanthropy at IUPUI  

“Fundraising is the gentle art of teaching the joy of giving.”
— Henry A. “Hank” Rosso, founder of The Fund Raising School

For Angela Gill, sharing the joy of giving is one of the best parts of her job as Executive Director of the Major Hospital Foundation in Shelbyville.

That’s a good thing, because the health-care system her foundation serves is expanding. In the past few years, it has opened a new hospital and health campus and partnered with Veteran Health Indiana to open a new veterans’ clinic. And this year, it will begin building a new nephrology center to focus on kidney health, thanks to a donor’s generosity.

Gill is aided in helping donors find the joy in giving by her extensive professional experience — including holding key roles at the Blue River Community Foundation and Shelby County United Fund before joining the Major Hospital Foundation in 2006 — and her graduate education. She earned her master’s degree in philanthropic studies from the Indiana University Lilly Family School of Philanthropy at IUPUI in 2011.

Since graduating, Gill has applied that knowledge, including an understanding of the art of fundraising, to her work. Recently, the foundation was awarded a major gift from a generous donor to build a freestanding nephrology center. Gill spoke about the process of securing this gift – a years-long process that began with a small gift from an interested individual.

“I had hoped this gentleman might be interested in the work of the hospital and the foundation,” she said. “He’s pretty savvy – he started by making a small gift to see what we would do about it, how we would respond. I stayed in touch with him and let him know everything we were doing.”

Fundraising, Gill said, depends on developing trust and mutual understanding over time.

That echoes advice that Dr. Gene Tempel, founding dean emeritus of the Lilly Family School of Philanthropy and president emeritus of the Indiana University Foundation, shared in a recent podcast for The Fund Raising School.

“The art of fundraising,” Tempel said, is “the creativity and engagement that are part of the way that fundraising has to be done.” It’s the art that must accompany the science and the technique of fundraising.

For one thing, Tempel said, fundraising is “about listening more than speaking, so that one begins to understand the donor. Listening is about 75 percent of the interaction. One needs to have empathy for the donor, to be able to see the world in which the donor lives from the donor’s point-of-view, to identify with and engage with the donor.”

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“The First Day from The Fund Raising School” is a weekly, 10-minute podcast that provides fundraisers and philanthropy professionals with current news, ideas and research. Hosted by Bill Stanczykiewicz, director of The Fund Raising School at the Lilly Family School of Philanthropy, it is available through The Fund Raising School App as well as iTunes and Google Play. A video version is also available on The Fund Raising School’s LinkedIn page.

Thinking about making a master’s degree a reality? The Master of Arts in Philanthropic Studies degree can be earned online, in person, or by combining those options.


“Hank Rosso, the founder of The Fund Raising School, frequently said, ‘Fundraising is the gentle art of teaching the joy of giving,’” Tempel said. “The joy of giving part is really important – one can sense when the donor might find joy in the gift that is being sought. And when the donor finds joy in the expression of a gift, that’s when we have the possibility of a major gift.”

For Gill, collaborating with the major donor to find that joy involved relationship building and exploring how the donor’s interests and the mission and needs of her organization might line up. As the relationship progressed, the donor shared that he would be interested in making a major gift.

“We showed him the drawings and gave him an explanation of what a nephrology center would do,” Gill said, noting that the new center will serve thousands of people every year and will provide a continuum of care to people living in Shelby County. “He was interested and agreed to support it and put his late wife’s name on the center, which we’ll be building later this year.”

Tempel’s insights underscore the value of such collaboration for the donor as well as the organization.

“So often we think of transformational gifts as gifts that transform the organization somehow and have a major impact on the organization. And certainly that’s a valid way of thinking about a big idea, a big gift might help fund a big idea that changes the organization,” he said.

“But it’s most important to think about how the gift might transform the donor, how the gift might make an impact on the donor’s life and see the possibility of something happening that the donor could not or did not have the thought of doing before. When one can help a donor make a transformational gift, a gift that transforms the donor’s life, that’s when we have complete satisfaction and perhaps joy in making the gift from the donor’s perspective.”

Gill shares some additional thoughts for fundraisers to keep in mind when collaborating with major donors:

  • Make sure you have a good relationship with people within your organization. “For me, keeping the door open with the administration and the board of the hospital is extremely important so that both parties know what is going on and are on the same page about both the project and the prospective gift.”
  • Know your donor. “If you go in to a meeting about a gift without knowing what the donor supports, it can be difficult.” Listen carefully and do your research so you know from the outset that what you’re proposing is likely to be a good match.
  • Do the right thing. “If you treat people the right way and listen to them, good things can come your way. They learn to trust you, like what you’re doing, and want to become a part of that work.”

Abby Rolland is the content coordinator at the Indiana University Lilly Family School of Philanthropy, and a current student in the philanthropic studies graduate certificate program. She has plans to enroll in the full master’s degree. Prior to her current role, she served as an AmeriCorps VISTA with Second Helpings, Inc. She is passionate about nonprofits and the impact they have in local and global communities.

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