Major Gift Development

Where Are the Donors? Identifying and Qualifying Major Gift Prospects

Last week I began a series on major gift development.  We started by defining the concept of a major gift and came up with a few guidelines:

  • A major gift is generally set at a level that is equal to or greater than gifts made by the top 5% – 20% of your donor base.
  • A major gift may be defined via the means by which it is solicited (i.e, face to face vs direct mail or other transactional methods).
  • Organizations tend to establish different major giving thresholds for each campaign line (annual, capital and/or endowment).

Now we are ready to think about the identification of major gift prospects.  Again – a quick review of last week’s tips.  Major donors tend to:

So let’s delve deeper into prospect identification and qualification. It seems that we are always looking to acquire new donors given that almost half of a large organization’s donor base may not renew their support from one year to the next.  It is essential that we continue to build our base.

First – where to look.  Major donor prospects are closer than you think.  Start by:

  1. Mining the networks of staff, board and committee members. Establish a database of caring and financially capable individuals generated from the organization’s past/present donor database list and suggestions from solicitors.
  2. Keep in mind that a donor file may contain records of stock ownership, real estate holdings, salary data, business and career histories, and ‘family tree’ information. It’s helpful to run a wealth screening….
  3. Do the research: look for public records of previous donations to other organizations, and identify connections to the organization.
  4. Don’t forget to gather annual reports from like causes and examine the rosters of major donors for overlap or new prospects.
  5. Meet everyone! Put representatives from the organization out into the field, ready to talk up the organization’s efforts at events in your geography.
  6. Start with your own database! Consider opportunities to further engage or upgrade volunteers, entry level and mid-range donors.
  7. Conduct prospect identification sessions with board and committee members. Ask volunteers to consider:
  • Family Members
  • Friends
  • Clients
  • Colleagues
  • Professional contacts
  • Friends of friends
  • Facebook/LinkedIn Contacts
  • Anyone they know with an interest in the mission
  • Contacts who are generally philanthropic

Once you have established this prospective major donor list, it’s time to qualify the list. Qualification is the means by which we determine if a major gift prospect is ready for solicitation (and at what level).  In order to determine readiness, ask your major gifts committee/team the following questions:

A campaign readiness assessment will focus on:

  • Commitment
    • Looking at all the variables, how does each donor/prospect exhibit a connection to your organization, to the community, to the cause?
  • Capacity
    • Looking at all the variables, what size and type of gift seems possible?

A qualifying visit/call can help you to answer these questions and is NOT a solicitation, but rather a means by which to build a relationship, gather information about a donor’s interests, and assess capacity and readiness.

Next week we will begin a conversation about major donor cultivation and continue to think about how relationship building plays a key role in the development of major gift prospects.  Until then, feel free to share thoughts and questions below, and please contact us with any questions about your campaign. Enjoy our freebie!