Identifying Big Ideas to Secure Transformational Gifts


Pursue transformational gifts with confidence using institutional collaboration.


The maxim big ideas lead to big gifts has defined fundraising, and—by extension—most of academia over the last 20 or more years. The acceptance of this adage is evident not only by where the most generous gifts to academia are being targeted but also by the rapid expansion of advancement organizations across higher education globally. Institutions are often eager for transformational gifts, but the creation of the big idea to secure one remains elusive.

In this virtual training, we will define the big ideas and big gifts while taking a deep dive into the processes that can generate those ideas that attract big gifts while not compromising the core mission of the institution. You will learn frameworks for sourcing ideas—who in academic, volunteer, and administrative leadership needs to be involved in the big-idea generation process, approaches to gift solicitation, and a review of funding models that could create an incentive for major donors.


Who Should Attend

This training is for advancement leaders and academic leaders who are interested in understanding how to collaborate to develop the big ideas that serve their institutional mission. Specifically, current or aspiring principal gift officers, deans, and heads of academic centers, institutes or initiatives could benefit from this training.

Recording available 10 business days after the live training.

The Academic Impressions Online Learning Experience

Intentionally Designed
Online Learning

Our virtual trainings go far beyond just replicating PowerPoint presentations online: these experiences are intentionally designed to give you the kind of robust and dynamic learning experience you’ve come to expect from Academic Impressions. These trainings provide you with an active learning environment and an online space where you can explore ideas, get inspired by what your peers are doing, and understand the range of possibilities around a certain topic. You will leave these sessions with practical solutions that you can take back to your team or task force.

What you will get:

  • A dynamic, interactive, and high-touch virtual learning experience designed to engage and set you up for growth
  • Seamless online face-time, networking, group work, and Q&A opportunities from the comfort of your own workspace
  • Practical takeaways and hands-on knowledge
  • Guidance from vetted subject matter experts
  • Unlimited access to all recorded online sessions


May 11, 2023

11:00 a.m. – 2:00 p.m. ET


Understanding the Importance of Big Ideas and How to Create Them

Knowing the distinction between an interesting fundraising idea and a potential big idea is an important first step in pursuing transformational gifts. Based on examples from past public gifts, big ideas have a particular structure that is replicable in most contexts. Big ideas also present an opportunity to engage the broader campus community because they are inherently collaborative and interdisciplinary. You will learn the characteristics of big ideas and the ways to construct them in your own environment.



Identifying Target Donors and Their Motivations

For the purposes of this training, a big gift is considered $10 million or more for a particular initiative. Using net worth as an indicator makes identifying potential transformational gift donors the easy part of the process—the more difficult part is getting connected to them and finding what motivates them to give. You will come away with an understanding of how to identify potential donors in your own or adjacent communities and how to curate an approach that could be a pathway to their making a gift.



Organizing Institutional Support to Pursue Big Gifts

A plan-focused, organized approach to donors builds their trust and confidence. The process of developing a big idea requires engagement with many of the senior management team, including the president, provost, and CFO, as well as senior managers in facilities, research, and advancement. Along the way, those in each area may be challenged to think differently about how they approach their work to affect the outcome. You will learn about strategies to create internal alignment, including establishing go/no-go thresholds, a reasonable timeframe to pursue an idea, and ways to create momentum in preparation for the desired big gift.


Portrait of O’Neil Outar

O’Neil Outar

Vice President of Institutional Advancement, Rhode Island School of Design

O’Neil Outar is currently the Vice President of Institutional Advancement of Rhode Island School of Design, a position he has held for more than five years. During his tenure he has adapted big ideas borne in research universities like MIT, the University of Alberta, and Harvard, to the small college environment with similar effect. Outar’s experience in developing and leading fundraising for big ideas began in 2005 and has included the MIT Energy Initiative, the Koch Institute for Integrative Cancer Research, the Alberta Water Initiative, and, at RISD, the Society of Presidential Fellows and a nascent sustainability initiative.

Read Speaker’s Full Bio.