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Fundraising websites, blogs and capital campaign guides often note that a lead gift of 10-20% of the campaign goal is a prerequisite for the campaign’s success. Find out what the outcome was when twenty three capital campaigns were analysed.

Fundraising websites, blogs and capital campaign guides often note that a lead gift of 10-20% of the campaign goal is a prerequisite for the campaign’s success.  Find out what the outcome was when 23 capital campaigns were analysed.


In the USA a 10% lead gift ‘rule’ has been commonly referenced, including in notable capital campaign literature by Hank Russo (2003), Kent Dove (2000, 2nd edition) and Marilyn Bancel (2000). The percentage referenced in the USA has increased with a 10-20% lead gift requirement noted by Andrea Kihlstedt (2010). In Australia, we hear comment that a lead gift of 15-20%, sometimes 25%, of the campaign goal is required.

We analysed the results of 23 capital campaigns completed on behalf of our clients between 2009-2016 in a range of sectors including disability, higher education, medical research, hospital and health support services, community welfare and youth services. The campaigns ranged in goal from $500,000 to $57.5 million (median campaign goal was $5 million) and were completed across Australia and one in New Zealand. The lead gifts in question ranged from 2-167% of the campaign goal, with a median of 20%.

To find the association of a lead gift with the goal, we considered the campaigns that raised 100% or more of their goal, and those that  raised over 80-99% of their goal. Unsurprisingly, almost all had a lead gift of more than 10% of  the campaign goal.

However, equal numbers of campaigns had lead gifts of 20% or more and 10-19% of the campaign goal. This suggests that in Australia either scale of lead gift can be associated with success. Campaign planning should be grounded in your measured potential gifts, not any fixed formula.

For campaigns that raised under 80% of their goal, almost all also had a lead gift of at least 20% of the campaign goal. This reflects a common problem: a campaign may start with a large gift (perhaps that likelihood gave some confidence in the original decision to proceed), but by the end the campaign falls significantly short of the goal. Thus, the lead gift is a high percentage of the original goal, but by itself doesn’t guarantee overall success.

In summary, a 10% or 20% lead gift is almost always a prerequisite for success, but not a sufficient prerequisite.

Completion of a feasibility study or campaign readiness assessment (CRA) is a stronger indicator for campaign success – 87% of campaigns for which Xponential completed a CRA reached over 80% of  their campaign  goal. In contrast, only 50% of campaigns with no CRA, or a CRA completed by another organisation, reached over 80% of their goals.

The CRA gives a realistic appraisal before starting: it tests an aspirational goal and qualifies the potential achievable goal. These can often be two different things. Equally as important, it can recruit strong advocates who will bring peer influence to gift-seeking.

Roewen Wishart CFRE & Tessa Irwin

Roewen Wishart CFRE is Director of Xponential Strategy, with 25 years’ experience in fundraising. His specialties are fundraising strategy, major gifts, capital campaigns, gifts in wills, and fundraising ethics.

Tessa Irwin is a Consultant at Xponential, specialising in major gifts and fundraising strategy, and is active within the industry as an FIA State Committee Member for NSW.

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