The Nonprofit Marketing Blog

More Ways to Find and Nurture Your Top Major Gift Prospects, Part 2

Read Part 1 for success factors one through four.

Amy Book CoverAs soon as I heard about Major Gift Fundraising: Unlocking the Potential for Your Nonprofita groundbreaking report marrying findings from the authors’ first-ever study of 662 small and midsized nonprofits with existing data on major gift fundraising—I was eager to share the promised major gift how-tos with you.

Today, co-author Amy Eisenstein, ACFRE  shares four major donor cultivation how-tos shaped specifically for smaller organizations like yours. Many thanks to Amy and her co-authors, Adrian Sargeant, director of the Centre for Sustainable Philanthropy (CSP), and Rita Kottasz, research consultant at CSP:

SUCCESS FACTOR #5: Work Your Donor Database to Segment Out Major Gift Prospects

Nancy: How should fundraisers use their donor databases to surface and segment major gift prospects?

Amy: I suggest fundraisers start with this three-step process:

  1. Segment donors who have the capacity to make a major gift. Segment the largest donors—those who have given the most, cumulatively, over the past two years, for example.
  2. Segment donors with the greatest inclination to make a major gift. Segment your most loyal donors—those who have given every year for the past five years, or eight times out of the past 10 years
  3. Delete corporate and foundation funders from both segments.

SUCCESS FACTOR #6: Work Your Database Again to Surface Top Prospects

Nancy: That’s a doable, crystal-clear process. But it’s likely to pull more than 20 prospects for most organizations. How can fundraisers extract their top prospects from their large and loyal donors segments?

Amy: I recommend fundraisers implement this simple ranking system to identify top prospects.

Rank prospect capacity using levels 1 to 4:

  1. Can give over $100,000.
  2. Can give between $10,000 and $99,000.
  3. Can give between $1,000 and $9,999.
  4. Can give under $1,000.

Then rank these prospects’ inclination to make a major gift using levels A to D:

  1. Loyal volunteers and board members.
  2. Show up or give more than once a year.
  3. Show up or give at least once a year.
  4. Interest unknown.

If you have 20 or more A1s, then you have your list. If you have fewer than 20 A1s, add some A2s to your list.

SUCCESS FACTOR #7: Get to Know Your Donors, Then Use That Understanding of What They Care About to Stay Donor-Centric

Nancy: How should fundraisers cultivate major gift prospects once they land on the “top 20” list?

Amy: The most important step for fundraisers is to meet with major gift prospects in a personal, face-to-face setting. Warm them up with a conversation on common interests or top-of-mind news or events (keep it uncontroversial!). Then, probe their philanthropic passions and habits via a series of open-ended questions:

  • What made you give to our organization in the first place, and what motivates you to keep giving?
  • What do you like and dislike most about our organization?
  • What do you think we should be doing more of or better?
  • What advice would you give our organization?
  • What other organizations do you volunteer for or give to, and why?
  • Would you consider volunteering for us (list a few distinct opportunities)?

Use what you learn to continue the conversation, in person and via email, over time. But don’t stop there.

Note from Nancy: If you ask what prospects dislike about your organization or what it should be doing better, be prepared to respond to or act on what you hear. Otherwise, don’t ask.

SUCCESS FACTOR #8: Partner with Colleagues and Board Members to More Deeply Engage Major Donor Prospects

Nancy: What’s the most effective yet realistic method for fundraisers to strengthen their major donor stewardship and cultivation impact beyond building and using a robust, flexible donor database fully populated with current data?

Amy: I have two recommendations here:

  1. Break down silos to engage top prospects more deeply with your organization.
  • Fundraisers should motivate prospects to volunteer on a committee or with key programs or services. Partner with your volunteer management colleagues to invite, support, and thank them as volunteers. The more fully your prospects experience your organization and its impact, the more engaged they’ll become and the more likely they’ll be to make a major gift.
  1. Build on the networks of your colleagues and board members.
  • Ask board and staff members to identify five top prospects whom they’re willing to invite to an event, send an appeal letter, or invite for coffee with the executive director.
  • Add everyone who responds positively to your donor prospect list. Focus on developing campaign or annual appeal donors first, then segment out top major donor prospects.

How do you cultivate your top major gift prospects when there’s never enough time or resources? Please share your tips and tools here.

Read Part 1 for success factors one through four. Then put these success factors into place to get your major gifts program off the ground. Can’t wait to hear how it goes!

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

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Linda Lombardi
Content Manager

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

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