Whether your nonprofit seeks to expand its outreach, embark on a new project, or maintain the good work that you’re already doing, you need the significant support of major donors. Major donors make the largest contributions that your organization receives, so your organization will want to work hard to find them and retain their support.
Donors who are capable of giving major gifts tend to prefer that your organization ask them for these significant contributions. Before you make these crucial asks, however, it is essential that you have identified the right candidates! We’ll walk you through the process of identifying potential major donors by showing you how to:
- Gather valuable information using prospect research.
- Hire a fundraising consultant.
- Identify corporate connections.
- Invite current and prospective major donors to an event.
If your organization takes the right approach toward your potential major donors before and after they make their gifts, you’ll make the first step toward creating lasting and beneficial partnerships with these generous individuals. Let’s begin with the process that is central to identifying the right donors for your organization: prospect research.
1. Gather valuable information using prospect research.
Prospect research is the process of gathering information on your current and potential donors to determine who among them is most likely to be both willing and able to contribute to your organization. To find major donors, your organization seeks individuals with a high capacity to give and a demonstrated interest in your cause or mission.
Prospect research data is broadly divided into two categories: wealth markers and philanthropic indicators. Wealth markers provide insight into a potential donor’s financial status and evaluates their capacity to give. Wealth markers include:
- Real estate ownership and stock holdings. Real estate ownership is one of the most reliable indicators of wealth, and owners of significant or valuable property are more likely than the average person to be philanthropically active. Information on stock holdings, available through SEC.gov for publicly traded companies, can also be a useful wealth marker.
- Career and business affiliations. It’s likely that your strongest candidates for major giving have high-ranking positions within their companies, but any business affiliation opens the possibility of increased giving or corporate sponsorship. Ensure that you ask eligible donors to submit requests for matching gifts from their companies.
- Political giving history. Donations to political campaigns are another strong indicator that a potential supporter is wealthy. Even relatively small or one-time political gifts imply a high capacity to give. If your potential donors have histories of contributing to political campaigns, they’re likely strong prospects for major giving.
You can learn more about the wealth screening process and the information it provides using Donorly’s guide to donor research. Wealth markers, however, aren’t the only component of prospect research. Your organization wants to identify wealthy prospects when searching for major donors, but it’s equally important to evaluate how likely these prospects are to support you.
Philanthropic indicators measure a potential donor’s likelihood or willingness to donate to a particular nonprofit. They include:
- Past giving history. If your potential donors have supported other nonprofits in the past whose missions are similar to yours, they’re likely to give to your organization as well. Your current donors are also strong prospects who may be willing and able to make major gifts, but need you to ask them to do so!
- Other involvement with nonprofits. Individuals who are engaged with nonprofits in other ways aside from donating—as volunteers, employees, or board members—demonstrate their commitment to the causes they choose to support. Provided that they’re also highly capable of giving, these individuals can be strong prospects for major gift giving.
- Activities, hobbies, and interests. How do your potential donors spend their free time? What causes do they express their support for on social media? If their activities and interests align with your organization’s goals and mission, they’re worth reaching out to.
With thorough donor research on your side, your organization will be able to identify potential donors who are both financially capable of making major gifts and dedicated enough to your cause to want to do so. Even with the help of prospect research data, asking for major gifts can still be challenging! Your organization may decide to seek the professional guidance of a fundraising consultant.
Whether your organization is unsure as to the best way to approach potential major donors or wants a professional perspective on your strategy before you put it into action, you may want to consider hiring a fundraising coach or fundraising consultant. Your fundraising consultant can review your top prospective major donors with your and help you develop stronger asks for each of them.
When hiring a fundraising consultant, look for one who meets your organization’s specific needs. A prospect research specialist, for instance, can help your team identify strong potential major donors, while a consultant specializing in campaign planning can help you develop your approach toward major donors within your larger campaign strategy.
Your organization can search for fundraising consultants online or in nonprofit directories, creating a list of candidates and taking note of each of their experiences finding major donors for the organizations they have partnered with in the past. Client testimonials and recommendations from other organizations are particularly useful when searching for a fundraising consultant.
Choosing a fundraising consultant familiar with nonprofits of your organization’s size and fundraising experience levels can be comforting. But having one familiar with a variety of organizations can help you see potential that you may be missing. Your potential consultants’ records of securing major gifts and improving major giving programs should be central to your decision making.
Logistical factors such as location can also be important to consider as you finalize your choice of a fundraising coach or consultant. Most importantly, hire the fundraising consultant that your team is excited to work with and who will bring significant experience in identifying major donors and approaching them in the right way.
Whether your team identifies your top potential major donors on your own or with the help of a fundraising consultant, one of the key pieces of information that your fundraising research will provide is your prospects’ business affiliations. Use these corporate connections to make significant gifts to your organization even larger!
It’s likely that many of your top candidates for major giving have important roles in their companies or are otherwise closely tied to corporations. Take advantage of your major donors’ connections to businesses for increased contributions to your organization!
Especially if you’ve cultivated strong and lasting relationships with your major donors, they may be willing to open the possibility of their businesses providing your organization with corporate sponsorship. This is one of the reasons that the wealth screening component of prospect research, which provides information on business affiliations, is so important!
Another great way to increase support from your business-affiliated major donors—and business-affiliated donors at all levels!—is through corporate matching gift programs. When donors who work for companies with matching gift programs make their contributions, their companies provide an additional contribution, typically in a 1:1 ratio to the original.
Corporate matching gift programs tend to have upper limits on the amounts they will match annually, so some major gifts may be too large to be matched. However, the definition of a major gift varies among organizations, so matching gift programs may be able to match the gifts of your organization’s most significant donors, or elevate their contributions into the major giving range!
Curious about the matching gifts process? Here’s how it works:
- A donor contributes to your nonprofit. To ensure that eligible donors are aware of their employers’ matching gift programs, your nonprofit can use automated software for matching gifts to alert donors to these programs and remind them to submit their matching gift requests.
- The donor submits a matching gift request to their company. Donors can learn whether their employers offer matching gift programs by using matching gift software or finding information on their companies’ websites.
- The company reviews the request to determine whether it is eligible for a matching donation. Companies tend to have upper and lower limits on the donation sizes they will match, and some have restrictions on the types of nonprofits to which they will make matching gifts.
- Your organization verifies that it received the original donation. Your donor’s employer will confirm with your organization that the donor made the initial gift before the company contributes its matching gift.
- Your nonprofit receives a check from your donor’s company. Once your donor’s gift is confirmed, the company will send its matching gift, effectively doubling or even further increasing the amount your organization receives from that donor!
Matching gift statistics indicate that a majority of donors are more likely to give if their corporations offer matching gifts programs and that these programs encourage many donors to give more than they would otherwise. Matching gifts programs are a great way to increase total donations to your organization and elevate more of your donors to higher giving levels.
Once your organization has identified potential major donors or has secured your first major gifts from successful asks, you’ll want to ensure that your major donors remain involved with your organization. Acknowledge your major donors’ importance and build stronger relationships by holding an event for them.
An event for your current and prospective major donors isn’t the same as the other fundraising events your organization likely has on its calendar for the year. To build relationships with major donors and recognize their essential contributions to your organization, you’ll probably want to hold a special event just for these key supporters.
You may have supporters among your current donors who are capable of giving major gifts, but have not yet done so because you haven’t asked them! Donors capable of giving major gifts who are not asked to do so will eventually stop giving, so you’ll want to invite these supporters to your event to better determine their willingness to give a major gift.
If the donors you select attend your event and seem receptive to the suggestion of increasing their support, you’ll want to follow up by asking each of them individually to become major donors.
In addition to your current supporters, you should also invite potential major donors who may not have as much previous involvement with your organization. Have them get to know your board members and your current key donors, and ensure that they’re well-informed on the good work your organization does and your most recent projects.
Fundraising events for major donors should feel like special occasions. But special doesn't have to mean "expensive." Above all, ensure that you use the event as an opportunity to thank these essential donors for either making or considering making the donations that allow your organization to continue its progress. Want to make your event planning and hosting smoother? Make the process easier for your team by checking out Double the Donation’s list of fundraising software.
Holding a special event for major donors can help express how much they mean to your organization. These are the donors who ensure that you work toward achieving your mission each day, so finding the most capable and passionate donors is essential to your organization’s fundraising strategy. Building lasting relationships with your major donors is central to you continued success.
Nonprofits depend on their major donors for the largest portions of their funding, so finding and cultivating major donors is an essential component of your fundraising efforts. Prospect research data and fundraising consultants can help your organization identify the right donors to ask, while corporate connections and events to show your gratitude can ensure that you’re getting the most support possible.