Major gifts are an essential component of any successful nonprofit fundraising plan. Compared to other methods of fundraising, major gifts bring in more money at a lower cost. That doesn't mean, however, that cultivating major donors won't require an investment in staff, time, and resources. The organization needs to have appropriate gift policies and recognition programs in place, staff and board members need to be trained and ready to solicit contributions, and time should be spend diligently
researching prospective donors. Some tips on identifying potential donors from our Prospect Research Basics class:
Start in your own backyard.
The first place to look for potential major gifts is with your current donors. Those with a past history of giving to your organization are the ones most likely to give again and in higher amounts if asked. Board members, if they don't contribute themselves, should be trained to assist in making the ask from potential donors (see our Your Board and Fundraising class for more). Volunteers may be another source, as a commitment of time and energy to the organization can sometimes lead to a financial investment as well. Lastly, don't forget about past users of your services or alumni. Those who have benefitted from your programs often have the deepest connection to its work and the strongest interest in seeing the organization succeed.
Look at who's giving to similar organizations.
Individuals who have contributed to other nonprofits in the same field or geographic area may be potential donors to your own organization. Look for common threads in the causes they support and seek the connection to your own programs and services. Many organizations will post annual donors lists
on their web sites or in event programs or annual reports. News media often include short items or press releases when a major donation is made to an area nonprofit. And then there are subscription databases like WealthEngine or DonorSearch that can also provide you with details on an individual's giving history.
Follow the money.
This group will have the least connection with your organization and the lowest conversion rate, but wealthy individuals in the community have the capacity to give beyond others. Lists like the Rich Register, Marquis Who's Who, and the Forbes Celebrity 100 can provide you with names and addresses
of key individuals at the state, regional, or national level. Just because they have the money, though, doesn't mean that these individuals will also have the interest in donating to your organization. Look again for indications of philanthropic interests or any connections between each individual's business and personal interests and your organization's activities and approach only those that are viable prospects.
As with foundations and corporations, it's important to look for the right fit between a potential donor and your organization. A quality prospect will have the capacity, interest, and willingness to give. Once you've identified prospects, it's time to coordinate the ask.