Using a Mini-Campaign to Jumpstart Your Major Gifts Program

It’s high time you started a major gifts program for your organization. While perusing donor lists of event keepsake booklets, you’re surprised that some of your low-level donors give much higher gifts to organizations of similar size or even cause areas. Starting a major gift program would allow you to ask those donors to increase their generosity.

But you’re not sure how to start. You’re not sure what to ask for and what materials you need. And, you’re anxious about making major asks in person.

Dip Your Toes in the Major Gift Waters with a Mini-Campaign

We’ve been experimenting with a mini-campaign model that you can use to build your confidence and kick-start a major gifts program.

Follow these six steps to conduct a mini-campaign. Your organization will not only raise money but will begin to understand that mid-level and major gifts fundraising is well within its grasp.

Step 1: Decide what to raise money for.

Identify a specific item or small capacity-building project you want to raise money for. Though you can raise major gifts for general expenses, an easy way to get started is to pick something specific to focus your mini-campaign on. 

Take a look at the annual budget and see if there’s something specific that’s already planned that you might use, perhaps equipment, landscaping, or a small renovation project.

Step 2: Develop a budget for the project.

How much will the project cost? Determine a simple but reasonable list of costs. You might include any design and fundraising expenses you might incur in your budget. That budget will become the “working goal” for your mini-campaign.

Step 3: Create a gift range chart.

You’ve seen gift range charts or gift pyramids before for large campaigns. But you can create one for your small campaign, too. 

Show how many gifts will be needed at various giving levels to reach your goal. Make sure that the top gift is 25% or more of your campaign goal. For example, if your goal is $100,000, your top gift might be $25,000, and go down from there.

Sample gift range chart for $100,000 mini-campaign

Gift Level Needed

# of Gifts Needed


# of Prospects Needed 

(# of Gifts x 3)




















See note

Note: The lower levels of your chart come into focus as prospects at the top begin making gifts that are larger or smaller than expected.

Step 4: Create a depth chart.

Once you have your gift range chart, it’ll be easy to create a depth chart. Simply move the gift amounts to the top of a chart and then fill in the names of donors you identify that you can approach for gifts of each level.

Sample Depth Chart for $100,000 Mini-Campaign

$25,000 (1/3)

$10,000 (2/6) 

$5,000 (4/12)

$2,500 (8/24)

$1,000 (X/X)

Jen Penny



Steve Sounds


Ally Alstead




As you review your donor lists, be sure you are selecting people who you believe have the ability to give at the level, a belief in your mission, and direct contact with your organization. Don’t worry if you can’t fill in all of the names immediately. But if you don’t have any or many names in the top categories, perhaps you need to lower your goal for this mini-campaign.

Step 5: Create a simple donor discussion guide.

You’re almost ready to talk with donors. But before you do, you’ll need a one-page document that very simply outlines three things:

  1. Why will this project matter?
  2. What is the project?
  3. How will you raise the money?

Don’t write big, long paragraphs. Instead, make a simple outline that you can use to guide the conversation. Think of it as a super-concise version of a case for support distilled down to its essential elements. If you have a photo or two that might be clarifying, you can include them. 

Put your Donor Discussion Guide, Gift Range Chart, and any other material in a folder, and you’re ready to go.

Step 6: Ask people for gifts.

Using the Depth Chart to provide the order of solicitation, ask for the largest gift first and go down from there. The order is important! If you are too anxious to ask for the largest gift first, go to a friend or friendly board member and practice on them. Then, once you have your asking sea-legs, start at the top.


The purpose of these steps is to break the preparation process down into manageable steps and help you lay out a clear vision and plan for the campaign. Approached systematically, you can probably get the first five of these steps done in a day or two, and then you’ll be ready to start your first encounter with major gift fundraising. 

Here are some other simple tips to help you on your way:

  • Recruit a partner to ease the anxiety.
  • Set a timeline.
  • Get a board member who could make the top gift involved in the planning.
  • Practice asking—even with the real asks, tell the donors you’re still learning and practicing.

Of course, once your mini-campaign is done, be sure to do a wonderful job of thanking and stewarding those donors. The happier they are, the more likely they’ll give you your next mini-campaign, and your major gift program will be off the ground.


Written by Amy Eisenstein, ACFRE, and Andrea Kihlstedt are co-founders of the Capital Campaign Toolkit, a virtual support system for nonprofit leaders running successful campaigns. The Toolkit provides all the tools, templates, and guidance you need — without breaking the bank. Learn more here: