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success guaranteed.

We guarantee you'll
raise more in your first
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Identify Your Major Donors Today

It’s no secret that major gifts impact the bottom line for small and emerging nonprofits. Even though major donors might make up a small segment of a nonprofit’s donor base, they account for a large percent of the total of gifts that come through the door.

How do you define “major donor” or “major gift”? Here’s the accepted industry definition: a major gift is an occasional contribution that’s larger than a donor’s ongoing annual support.

Some nonprofits set a minimum amount they define as a major gift to help them identify who among their constituents deserves attention based on some assessment of gift capacity.

Free Download: How to Create a Major Donor Program

If your organization hasn’t selected a threshold amount, consider taking these steps to identify your potential major donors:

  • Generate a list of all your donors and all the donations they made to your organization last year.
  • Sort the list with the biggest gifts (and donors’ names) at the top.
  • Calculate the total fundraising dollars received last year and then calculate 75% of your total.
  • Starting at the top, add up gifts until you hit that 75% number. Then, count the number of donors (not donations) who contributed to that 75%.
  • If this number is too big, shorten the list to identify the number of individuals and key institutional donors you choose to manage as your major gift prospects and donors.
  • Identify anyone you’d like to include on this list based on their leadership, gift potential, lifetime giving, deferred gifts, etc.
  • Don’t forget your board members! Whether yours is a working board or a fundraising board, adding them to this list will help you grow their fundraising capacity.

Identify those with greatest giving potential

The next step is to determine your organization’s most promising donors. I recommend using a scoring model to determine who on your list you should contact first. For each person, note your points for each item, then total them at the end. The scores are based on seven categories:

  • Relationship to Your Nonprofit (student/client/patient/patron/etc): Has the person been a recipient of your programs and services? Add a point for each year of activity, or for each occasion.
  • Activity with Your Nonprofit (board member, key volunteer, attends events, etc): The recency and frequency of involvement can tell you a lot about a person’s interest. You might score a point for each activity within past three years.
  • Birthdate: Age may be indicate a person’s available assets. Prospects with school-aged or college-aged children may not have disposable income or assets to donate. On the other hand, retirees may be in a better position to give.You might, for example, assign a point for each decade a person is over 40.
  • Giving Summary: Among those donors who haven’t made major gifts, consistency may be more valuable than gift amounts. Scoring this element is simple. Award a point for each consecutive year a person’s made a gift.
  • Employer: Is there potential for a corporate gift as well as a personal one? Add a point.
  • Professional Title: This can be especially valuable if your prospect is the owner or principal, a likely decision maker. Score a point here.

This process may seem straightforward, but things are rarely as simple as we wish. You may find it easy to manage this sort of research for a list of several dozen names. Scoring hundreds, or even thousands, of people is another thing entirely. So start with what is usually considered the most valid factor: giving history.

To start, sort your donors based on years of consistent giving. Look for your most loyal donors. If the number you identify who have given for three – five years is too large, run it again based on lifetime giving amount. Start at the top of that list.

This is step one in our recently published eGuide, How to Create a Major Donor Program, download the eGuide to learn the next four steps.

Launching a Powerful Peer-to-Peer Campaign in 10 Steps
Donor Segmentation Best Practices
Don’t Just Slap a Flag On It and Call It Inclusive: Understanding Your LGBTQIA+ Donors
The Psychology Behind Donations