Carrying The Mountain Away

The man who removes a mountain, does so by carrying away small stones – Chinese proverb

“We’d like for you to consider a gift of $500,000 to help fund our new Center for Global Awareness. . .”

These words (or similar ones) are written or said everyday by volunteers and development leaders.  But in most circumstances, I’m not sure it is the most helpful approach?

When we ask prospects for a gift by leading with the total gift amount, we are, in essence, painting the picture of the complete $500,000 mountain for them.  And while mountains can be beautiful, they also can be imposing.  So, imposing, in fact, as to be unthinkable to climb!  An initial donor response might be:  “I’ve never made a $500,000 gift.  That’s a whole lot of money.  I can’t make that kind of commitment!”

It’s never good for the first impulse to be a negative one.

Instead, I have used the Gift Planning Tool, which is designed to focus the conversation first on the impact the donor is wishing to make with her giving.  Second, it encourages the donor to think about her gift in annual increments, instead of the “big mountain” amount of the total, multi-year gift.  Finally, it guides the donor to think comprehensively about her giving.  So, we not only calculate the multi-year commitment to your exciting, sexy campaign project, but we also figure in her continuing support of the Annual Fund, and discuss possibilities for an appropriate deferred gift.

Once the Gift Planning Tool has been completed, a multi-year, comprehensive total gift amount – the “big mountain” number –  is generated by adding all of the subcategories together.  And instead of being discouraged by the number, donors are thrilled that they are able to make a gift of such magnitude and impact.  “We just never thought we could make a gift of that amount,” is a phrase I’ve heard more than once.

Leading with the mountain is not always best.  In fact, it can be a hindrance to inspiring donors to give their best.  When we invite donors to enter into a conversation about their giving, instead of putting the question directly to them, we have a better opportunity to generate the kind of gift that makes everyone feel inspired.

The Gift Planning Tool helps us break the mountain down into small stones.  And by focusing on the small stones, pretty soon we can carry the mountain away.


If you have an interest in learning more about The Gift Planning Tool and how to use it, don’t hesitate to contact me at


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