The Nonprofit Marketing Blog

Find and Nurture Your Top Major Gift Prospects, Part 1

Amy Book CoverCan small and midsized nonprofit organizations like yours raise major gifts? Finally, thanks to Amy Eisenstein, ACFRE, and friends, we have the answer—a resounding yes—and specific recommendations to get you there.

Amy, together with Adrian Sargeant, director of the Centre for Sustainable Philanthropy, and research consultant Rita Kottasz, recently released Major Gift Fundraising: Unlocking the Potential for Your Nonprofit.

This groundbreaking study marries findings from the authors’ first-ever examination of 662 small and midsized nonprofits with existing data on major gift fundraising.

The result is a game-changing guide to success factors for your major donor development, including these early stage building blocks:

SUCCESS FACTOR #1: Focus on a Manageable Number of First-Time Major Gift Prospects

Nancy: What is a manageable list of first-time major gift prospects?

Amy: It’s critical that development directors select the prospects in their major gift pipelines with care. Unfortunately, I’ve found that most development directors are so busy cultivating “everyone” that they end up cultivating nobody well.

Time and resource restrictions that most fundraisers face dictate focusing only on top prospects. Our research findings show that cultivating no more than 20 prospective major donors is best for fundraisers with multiple responsibilities, including grant writing, event planning, direct response, marketing, and more. Fundraisers focused primarily on raising major gifts can manage more prospects.

SUCCESS FACTOR #2: Find Your Major Gift Prospects Among Existing Donors (Retention Rules!)

Nancy: Where should fundraisers look for major gift prospects?

Amy: Our research shows that fundraisers should start with existing donors, as opposed to first-time or new donors. For a list of 20 prospects, I recommend including 75% (or 15) existing donors and 25% (five) new prospects.

Note from Nancy: Obviously, focusing on retaining “regular” donors is a prerequisite to adding them to the major donor prospect list.

SUCCESS FACTOR #3: Identify Top Prospects Who Demonstrate These Two Characteristics

Nancy: What donor traits or actions should a fundraiser look for compiling her prospect list for major gifts?

Amy: People who are most likely to make a major gift donation share two characteristics: 1) capacity, and 2) inclination/interest. These traits hold steady for organizations of every size.

A good research or wealth screening program will help fundraisers determine capacity and gauge inclination/interest based on a donor’s level of involvement with their organization and others (as both donors and volunteers or program participants).

SUCCESS FACTOR #4: Put a Robust Donor Database in Place and Use It Fully

Nancy: What kind of donor database, and use of that database, is required?

Amy: Having the right donor database in place is a highly relevant factor driving the number of major gifts received. But that’s just the beginning. To get the most from a donor database, fundraisers must work with IT colleagues and others to implement a system to gather, enter, share, and use comprehensive data and anecdotes on prospects, donors, and other supporters.

Investing in implementing and populating a donor database and the right organizational systems facilitates identifying prospects and stewarding existing supporters. It also can play a role in creating institutional memory to safeguard the nonprofit against losing key personnel.

Eureka! This is just the kind of concrete, proof-based guidance we need.

Read Part 2

P.S. Download your guide to major gift success, Major Gift Fundraising: Unlocking the Potential for Your Nonprofit.

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About This Blog

Linda Lombardi

We’re here to help you win hearts and minds—and donations.

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