Building a Case for Mega-Gifts to Human Services

Mega-gifts are on the rise, according to The Chronicle of Philanthropy. They are the holy grail of
philanthropy: large single donations can impact an organization significantly by re-energizing PieceOfPie.jpgprograms, supporting organizational growth and transforming communities. Higher education and healthcare organizations are getting the lion’s share of large gifts of $10 million and above, but so
 far those mega-gifts have eluded human services organizations. What can nonprofits in the human services sector do to better position themselves for large cash opportunities?

Build support from individuals vs. foundations

While total donations in the human services sector was the highest on record in 2015, only 6% of gifts over $1 million went to the human services sector. This was far below large gift totals made to higher education or healthcare institutions, according to Giving USA. Why haven’t human services organizations had much success accessing large gifts? One reason is that large philanthropic gifts most often come from individuals, yet most giving in the human services sector is from foundations, not individuals.

As evidence, only 26% of large gifts to human services organizations comes from individuals, while 88% of mega-gifts in other philanthropic sectors is given by individuals. Many of these individual donors also give to human services organizations, but they don’t often view those institutions as destinations for their largest gifts. We know that donors make their biggest gifts to the biggest vision they see. Higher education and healthcare institutions can elicit large gifts with overarching visions and bold statements about eliminating all diseases or ensuring clean water for everyone. Donors want to be a part of that kind of grand transformation. How can human services organizations make similar appeals?

Garner big gifts from big visions

To attract individuals with large donations to offer, human services organizations need a clear set of messages that not only captures the importance of the agency’s work but the urgency of the work as well. To Campbell & Company, big visions should be:

  • Inspirational rallying cries.
  • Ambitious, even audacious goals that are only successful through the participation of others.
  • Specific and vivid, with a clear sense of the finish line.
  • Realistic and credible, so the audience believes it can be achieved.

An example of such a bold statement: “We want to make urban agriculture a core feature of 21st century cities to reduce unemployment, food scarcity and obesity in some of our most disadvantaged neighborhoods. Let’s begin in our city.” (Learn more about creating bold case statements.)

For the human services sector, big visions can be a challenge: these organizations more often than not provide basic daily needs vs. far-reaching and transformational missions. Yet, human services organizations have a number of opportunities on their side. They can be an entry point for new donors making their first philanthropic gift. In particular, humanitarian causes appeal to millennials interested in supporting basic struggles like income inequality and social justice. Human services organizations have the unique ability to nurture long-term, emotional relationships that, with time, can foster large individual gifts.

We’ve worked with a number of human services organizations that have been successful with mega-gift development, and I’d be happy to share those success stories. If you’d like to learn more about mega-gifts in the human services sector, listen to the webinar, “Are We Getting Our Share: Building a Case for Mega-Gifts in Human Services."

About Campbell & Company

Campbell & Company is a national consulting firm offering fundraising, communications, executive search and strategic information services for nonprofit organizations in the education, health and medicine, arts and culture, environment, social service, and professional society fields. 

Through 40 years and thousands of engagements, Campbell & Company has helped nonprofit organizations anticipate and manage the challenges of the philanthropic marketplace. The company maintains offices in Chicago, Los Angeles, Nashville, Portland, the San Francisco Bay Area, Seattle and Washington, DC.  For more information, please call (877) 957-0000, email, or visit

Fundraising, West Region, Human Services Trends

Craig Hightower

Craig Hightower is a Vice President and Director, Western Region at Campbell & Company. Craig leads our Los Angeles, Orange County, San Diego, and San Francisco Bay Area practice, providing fundraising counsel to Arts & Culture, Healthcare, Human Services, Education, and Environmental nonprofits.