An Unlikely Success – Lead Gifts Inspire

David Malone

By Dave Malone, President

When an all-volunteer group told us they wanted to build a new $10 million YMCA in a community of just 7,500 people, we knew we had our work cut out for us.  With no executive staff – in fact, no staff at all, no development program (no current donors!), and not even a list of active members (the YMCA had yet to be built), this campaign would be challenging.

When we started the campaign, we knew lead gifts would be important, as they are in all campaigns.  Large gifts, early in a campaign, are critical for several reasons.  First, there’s the gift itself.  Campaigns are about raising money and lead gifts are among the largest that most campaigns receive.  But in addition to the money, lead gifts give a campaign credibility and momentum.  In other words, lead gifts inspire others to give.

In the early days of the campaign, we learned there was a family in town whose members were born and raised there, were salt of the earth people and had sold a major business recently.  We wondered if they could be lead gift donors.  One of the YMCA’s board members knew them well and arranged for a visit.  Over the course of several personal visits with the mother and father of this large family, along with their adult children gathered around the kitchen table in their humble family home, we eventually asked them for a lead gift.  And after all their questions were answered, they said yes to a $3 million lead gift!

This single gift was fully 30% of our goal.  The family’s amazing generosity inspired another lead gift of $2 million and a third of $1.4 million.  The campaign was at 64% of goal in just three lead gifts!  It was an exciting time in a campaign that would go on to reach its goal of $10 million, in large part because of these truly inspiring lead gifts.

Lead gifts, especially from those well known in the community, can legitimize a campaign in the mind of the public and give a campaign forward momentum, creating a snowball effect of more and more donors who also want to participate in the thriving campaign.

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