Creating and Using a Major Gift Calculator

Mark Kelly
July 29, 2015

A major gift calculator, often called a gift chart, helps organizations plan for their next fundraising campaign or event. When designed and used correctly, the gift calculator will tell you how many prospects you need at every giving level to reach your overall fundraising goal. 

As the gift amount increases, you will need to secure fewer and fewer gifts, so your required number of prospects will also decrease. 

These gift charts are particularly popular for major giving purposes because they segment out major giving into different levels and let you see where your major gift donors fall. You can then use the information to guide your major gift cultivation and solicitation

Major Gift Calculator

Ready to walk through the process of creating a major gift calculator? 

Let's get started.

Before we do, I should note that there are gift range generators elsewhere on the internet where you can plug in your desired fundraising goal and it will fill out a complete chart.

These charts are good to use to give yourself a general idea of your various prospect needs, but they are in no way specific to your situation and your unique donor pool. They follow standard formulas. And, if one thing is true, it is that most organizations don't have standard donor pools. 

Instead of giving you generic results, this post will go through a sample process of creating a major gift calculator, so that you can follow along with your organization's own numbers.

1. Set your parameters.

In this scenario, we will say you have an upcoming gala that you would like to raise $300,000. That is our starting point. 

Most gift charts are used mainly for capital campaigns, but they can help with planning out any fundraising goal. 

With an event like the gala in this example, you might be able to use the chart to price out sponsorships and costs for purchasing tables. Do not pigeonhole the capabilities of the calculator.

2. Estimate the largest gift you'll be able to secure. 

There is a lot of flexibility here depending how the top portion of your major gift pool shakes out. Most chart generators and sample charts will use somewhere between 15%-30%. For the sake of this example, let us call this gift 20% of the total. 

So, 20% of $300,000 is $60,000. 

Top gift amount is one of the aspects of a chart that has the largest potential for error. Who is to say that your biggest gift will be exactly 20% or 18% or 25% of your total? A high-quality donor might meet with your organization and be happy to contribute closer to 45% of your total. 

3. Determine how many prospects you'll need to secure your top gift. 

For every gift, you want three, four, or five prospects. These will not just be any prospects, but prospects who have a documentable likelihood of actually leaving a gift of that size. This will be true at your lower giving tiers, and it is true at this high level.

Here, we will split the recommended numbers and set our ratio at four to one. 


Annual Development Plan Checklist


4. Move on to assigning the remaining gift amounts.

Now, we need to do calculations for the next highest gift amount and so on and so on. 

As you move down the gift amount list, you will be halving or coming close to halving all of your numbers. 

With a starting gift amount of $60,000, the steps down should be as follows:

  • $30,000
  • $15,000
  • $7,500
  • $3,750

5. Assign how many gifts you'll need for each amount. 

Most gift charts divvy up this amount by doubling the number of gifts from the highest giving level and then continuing the pattern. The exact number won't always be double; it can fluctuate depending on the size and giving capacity of your donor pool.

Since we are using standards for this chart, we will multiply each prior gift number by two. In other words:

  • 2 gifts of $30,000
  • 4 gifts of $15,000
  • 8 gifts of $7,500
  • 16 gifts of $3,750

In each case, the gifts add up to $60,000. You will notice that $3,750 is quite a high number for the lowest giving tier at an event aimed at raising $300,000. It makes the math pretty, but it isn't entirely realistic. Those are the kind of holes in logic you'll notice if you build your gift calculator solely around formulas, instead of letting your organization's unique situation inform your numbers. 

6. Take a look at the chart.

Let's see how our chart turned out. 

Gift ($) 

Number of Gifts

Number of Prospects Needed

Total Raised ($)





















If you were using this chart for practical purposes, you would see the implications of that final gift amount and have to alter it to make the 16 gifts of $3,750 more manageable. 

Regardless, this step-by-step process should help guide you through your own endeavors in gift charting. 

It's always good to have a plan, but be prepared to alter your course and adjust as needed. A gift chart is only predictive if it is built from accurate numbers. 

Once the major gift levels have been calculated, it is time to turn to your prospect list and find candidates for each level.

If you want to unlock more supporter management and fundraising tips, check out these additional resources:

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