Using a Fundraising Gift Table for Your Special Initiative

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The gift table is one of the most important pieces of your arsenal as a fundraiser. But how well do you really know how to build, maintain, and use a gift table? This series goes deep on how to use this tool to advance fundraising efforts.

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Watch our webinar recording: Using a Gift Table to Plan for Fundraising Initiatives

Gift tables are useful tools for steering your fundraising program. They allow you to quickly understand the dollars and donors needed at different levels to meet your goal—and what you and your team need to do to get there.

Do you need to secure multiple transformational gifts for a special campaign? Or do you need to increase support at the mid-level to meet your increased annual goal to cover additional operational expenses? Whatever fundraising scenario you find yourself in, a gift table can help map out where you and your team need to focus.

In this article, we will look at how to use gift tables to plan special initiatives, how to adjust based on progress and prospect activity, and how to plan for future initiatives by building out your gift table to include more data.

Planning Your Special Initiatives


Perhaps you are beginning to think about a special initiative for a program, a capital project, or an increase in endowment dollars for a scholarship or faculty chair. The first thing you, your team, and your leadership should understand is: do we have the donors and prospects to make this a success? To answer that question, you must understand what types of gifts you need to support the goal.


First, determine your goal. This can be a goal that leadership has already set and approved, or it can be an aspirational goal you’re testing.


Second, build a preliminary gift table based on this goal. If your goal is $15 million, you may want to consider designing your initiative assuming a $2 million lead gift and several gifts between $100,000 - $750,000.


Remember: prospect relationships at any level take time, so making your gift table more “top heavy” may be your only option if you are a small shop. If your gift table is more “bottom heavy,” it’s likely you need additional staff to make regular contact with these prospects and donors.


Once you have built your gift table, look at the prospects in your database and segment by capacity. You will likely need to do a wealth screening to figure out which of your prospects have capacity. Do you have a $2 million prospect? Ideally, you would want three. Best practice dictates that for each donor you need, you should have three qualified prospects.


If you determine through this capacity examination exercise that you have more prospects at the middle of the gift table, you may want to consider shifting your $2 million gift needed to $1 million and adding an additional four donors needed at the $500,000 level. Make sure the gift table works for your organization.


If you use Beam Insights, our proprietary software, you can automatically generate a $15 million gift table based on whether you think your organization should run a “top-heavy,” “balanced,” or “bottom-heavy” campaign.


Beam Insights also analyzes capacity and scores each prospect based on past giving, capacity, and current proposals. The software maps prospects to the level of the gift table where they “fit” based on this score. Within seconds, you can see where you have an excess of prospects at a certain level or where you have gaps. This analysis can give you a quick snapshot of the work your team will need to do.

Making Adjustments


Gift tables should not remain stagnant. Once you develop a gift table for a specific fundraising effort, you should revisit it as you make progress.


Have you secured a lead gift of $2.5 million when you only projected that you would need $2 million? That’s great news! Take a moment to revisit the gift table and remove a gift from the $500,000 level or two from the $250,000 level. Making these “on the fly” adjustments can help you understand where you need to focus your prospect engagement efforts.


Perhaps you haven’t been using a gift table and are mid-campaign or mid-fundraising effort. No problem! Build your gift table with your overarching goal of $15 million (for example) but create an extra column that shows the progress you have made. Have you secured your lead $2 million gift and multiple gifts at the $500,000 and $100,000 level? If so, subtract the gifts received from donors needed to understand the gifts you still need at each level.


If you have the capability, add yet another column to show the proposals “out” at each level. Have you made several asks at the $250,000 level? If so, subtract them from the qualified prospects needed column so you can understand the prospects you still need to identify and what your pipeline looks like.


Beam Insights does all this manual work for you! The software pulls in the gifts you have received thus far and the proposals or opportunities you have in your system. This allows you to quickly see the qualified prospects you still need and allows you to check in with your team on active proposals.


Preparing for the Next Initiative

If you keep your gift table up to date throughout your fundraising initiative, it’s easy to review where you pulled in gifts at each level and how that compared to your original projections (or revised projections if you updated the table during the campaign).


Gift tables can also be helpful for annual planning. Consider how you can slot the prospects who gave to this initiative into your annual planning. Do they have the capacity and affinity to continue to give at the level they did for the campaign, or do you think their annual support will be toward the “bottom” of the gift table until you move into another campaign?


Thinking in gift table terms for all your fundraising initiatives can help you plan and project effectively, so you can move into your next initiative stronger and more prepared than ever.

From a special initiative to the annual fund, Beam Insights allows you to create different scenarios—complete with a gift table—for each type of fundraising initiative you pursue. Click the button below to see Beam Insights in action and get a preview of its gift table functionality.


See a preview of Beam Insights


Caitlin Bristow

Caitlin Bristow is a Senior Consultant at Campbell & Company and Product Manager of Beam Insights. She partners with nonprofits across sectors to help them build philanthropic support and deepen donor relationships.