The Science and Art of Raising Major Gifts

560 315 Maria Breston

More than a few years back I was invited to pursue an Adult Education doctorate degree in the first cohort class piloted by Columbia University-Teachers College. The department selected 24 candidates who had a minimum of 5 years in an executive level position in one of 12 separate industries that served the adult learner. The University had the distinction of offering our nation’s first doctorate in the field of adult learning and for the prior 50 years, taught the science of the profession. By bringing together practitioners from respective adult learning industries, articles and research findings were reviewed, tested, and critiqued by the student practitioners.

At the time, I and a fellow cohort represented private higher education. At first glance it seemed like a ‘walk in the park’ as we were recognized as the ‘expert’ in our respective fields of practice and as such, we had earned the right to critique the literature and research findings gathered over the prior 50-year period. I learned quickly it was more than double the work of traditional academic programs of study as that right to critique theory additionally required becoming a leading expert in the science of the adult learning profession.

Major gift fundraising is a science and requires the expertise of practitioners who are skilled in the art of implementing the essential standards of practice. The skill of bridging the gap between the world of science and the contextual conditions of practice have become an essential theme throughout my career, and most especially in the original methods I use in raising major gifts.   This skill almost always guarantees that your major gift initiative is original… and our philanthropic community will always welcome originality over the status quo of standard practice. The science of major gift fundraising gives you the license and expertise required to drive the major gift vehicle; and creative tension that comes from the desire to bridge science with practice creates the art of raising major gifts.

By Dr. Lou Traina, Senior Consultant