Major Gifts

Australian Conservation Foundation 2015-2023

Campaign Background

Xponential worked with ACF on a major gifts “Nature’s Champion’s” campaign over 2 years in 2016 & 2017, regular Major Gifts Benchmarking and a campaign feasibility study and intensive coaching since 2023. Australian Conservation Foundation, Australia’s national environment organisation, influences governments and business to protect animals, rivers and reefs that are close to our hearts and hold decision makers to account without fear or favour. With a fundraising program running for decades, ACF ramped up its major gifts program over more than ten years.


Grow major gifts income
Increase average major gift
Development of a mid-value donor program
Continuous improvement to optimise results and donor satisfaction

Strategy and Execution

Climate change advocacy is a big part of the ACF mission, but there’s much more. ACF works on a whole range of climate and nature issues. If they were to assume that major gifts are likely to come from people who describe themselves as “very concerned” about climate, the research suggests that group has not experienced a large increase in recent years. They have held that concern for much longer. What has been important at different times is donors’ perception of how influential ACF advocacy can be, depending on whether the prevailing government is relatively receptive or relatively resistant.

The role of the ACF philanthropy executives’ is to read and understand each donors motivations and tailor their cultivation and ask accordingly. It is almost analogous to the different motivations in university fundraising of scholarships and bursaries for students; one with a heavy emphasis on academic merit alone, and the other with a greater emphasis on equity of access to higher education.

One part of a major gifts program is where and how you identify new major donor prospects and the resources to work on cultivating those donor relationships. For a lot of the time, ACF have relied mainly on an upgrade model, that is, identifying people who are already donors to ACF and have the financial ability to give larger gifts. They’re now moving gradually to adding more peer influence identification and qualification of major donor prospects.

A second important change is the mid-value donor program, generally covering donors giving gifts up to $5,000 at present. That has enabled a greater focus on larger average gifts from major donors. Although ACF has not yet changed their definition of a major gift, they plan to change it to $10,000 once they’re satisfied that their resourcing and process will continue to generate good results from supporters in the $,5000-10,000 range.

At the same time, ACF have been able to reduce the size of each philanthropy executives portfolio of major donors and major donor prospects. Four years ago it was 136 per one FTE, however it’s now approximately 100. Of course it’s been important to set up key performance indicators for a mid value program so that they don’t create a perverse incentive to ask a $3,000 donor for $5,000, when they might have given $50,000 with the right approach.

Results and Impact

By 2024, ACF forecasts that it will have increased its major gifts income by almost 80% over four years, to around $3.5 million.

The average gift amount per major donor has increased in four years, from $12,400 per major donor per year to $24,300. The most important change has been even more thought and planning of solicitations and meeting plans. That has become well established in the teams practice. The elephant in the room was the impact of COVID remote working on the team. Despite people’s adaptability, less of the simple unstructured daily collaboration and feedback on tactics with donors had an adverse impact for several years. ACF have reached a good new equilibrium, with a mixture of hybrid work and having our team gather in one place from different states regularly.

Our thanks to Stuart Garratt, long-serving Philanthropy Manager at the Australian Conservation Foundation for providing these insights.