Soon after the foundation was established, we received gifts in odd amounts of over $1,000 from a gentleman I had never met. At the forming of the foundation, we were throwing a wide net to capture supporters. This gentleman was in that wide net. He was not on a short list for us to get to know. The donor had been receiving our mailings, but no one had ever talked with him. We had no indication he would be a major donor. Phone calls to him to say thank you went unacknowledged or unanswered. With persistence, he responded by email. When I left the foundation, he was still contributing and had reached a giving level close to $40,000.
This is not the norm in major gift fundraising.
I don’t recommend spending money to cast a wide net to identify major donors.
Be very intentional in creating a major donor prospect list of those who would likely support your efforts.
Here is the criteria you need to identify your ideal major donors:
1. They must have the ability to give.
Remember, you are looking for major donors. You simply must spend time cultivating those with the means to give in a big way. You determine what that amount is for your organization. Your time is limited and you need the resources to accomplish your mission. Start by looking at people’s patterns of giving in the community.
2. They must be passionate about your cause.
Look at a prospect’s past giving history to your organization and in the community. Notice what they support. Notice their hobbies and activities, their patterns of giving, and their collaborative partners. Their passion leaves a trail. If they have been supporting you, ask them what makes them give. Discover where their passion lies with you organization. This will help you get more specific on your asks. It is often difficult to discover what makes a person support your nonprofit’s efforts. You feel like you are fishing in the dark.
3. They must be philanthropic.
A person who is philanthropic is simply evidenced by their past giving. Know what they are passionate about — the fine arts, higher education, animal protection, wildlife protection, youth, etc.
Don’t spend time cultivating a person just because they are wealthy. Not everyone with the ability to give will give. You cannot talk with someone with his or her back to you. Just because someone can give does not mean they will give.
Once you know the prospect has the means to give, is passionate about your mission, and is philanthropic, put them on your prospect list. Engage with them in meaningful and effective ways. See more about what motivates donors to give here.
Your list will change as you discover more information about the prospects.
If you are a small shop, it’s ok you do not have an army, a prospect research staff, or a software program to identify potential donors. You can still create a very valuable prospect list without those high dollar resources.
Use the criteria to establish a filter, and create a top major donor prospect list.
Nancy Rieves, Ed.D. is a fundraising coach. She provides overwhelmed nonprofit leaders of small organizations with a roadmap to maximize and sustain major gift fundraising. She prepares leaders to be confident and successful in raising money. Reach her at [email protected].
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