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Transformational Fundraising: Time, Staffing, Costs

Jim Lanier, Senior Fellow, AGB Institutional Strategies 

Top of the Pyramid Philanthropy is inspired by big noble ideas or institutional opportunities.  It is critical to realize that part of the paradigm shift in today’s “giving” climate is that the top 2% of investors rarely contribute large sums for short-term survival tactics or institutional needs.  Instead, they tend to invest in solutions and long-term ideas—those promising to solve complex problems—that align with their aspirations.

The traditional campaign/giving paradigms split donations into ⅓rds, with equivalent contributions coming from a very small group of top investors, a mid-size group of major donors, and a very large pool of donors giving small gifts.  The AGBIS Transformational Fundraising focus is on the top 2% of investors—sometimes called “angel or social impact” investors.  In connecting with this select group, urgency paired with a strategic business, plan is critical.  It’s important to recognize that top of the pyramid philanthropy is NOT traditional fundraising or campaigning or marketing; it is a hybrid of all three focusing on a very small target market. The best transformational fundraising initiatives are those that are bold and transformative for the institution and benefit the surrounding communities. 

In terms of time, staffing, and costs, the typical project may take 9-18 months to complete as your institution identifies, targets, and cultivates relationships with 15-50 potential investors.  The President of the Institution must own and lead this process and receive support from leadership and staff in the Advancement and Marketing offices.  Engaging at least 2 or more key trustees (and getting their buy-in) is also critical and will help immensely.  A project of this type does not usually require the addition of any new staff, or the allocation of any permanent budget additions, but does require a slight reallocation of responsibilities for individuals in the Advancement and President’s offices.  There will be travel costs for the President as they recruit and build relationships with the prospective donors, but there should not be any large or extravagant media or marketing expenses. 

AGBIS can assist in developing the overall strategy, marketing campaign, and language that will appeal to the top 2% of potential investors at your institution.  If you would like to learn more about how a Transformational Fundraising project is organized and implemented, contact AGBIS and join us for one of our complimentary webinars on the topic: 202-776-0868, or email