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Finding New Major Donors in Three Simple Steps

When I started doing nonprofit development work, one of the things that always seemed daunting was major gift fundraising—finding donors who had the affinity and capacity to make a transformational gift to the organization.

By Alexandra Reardon, CFRE, Winkler Group Senior Managing Consultant

But over the years I discovered it wasn’t actually daunting at all. Eventually, many of those donors I found and cultivated became the biggest donors to our capital campaign.  

Major donors are not hard to get if you know where to look and what to do once you find them. The secret to finding and keeping major donors? It’s three things:  

  • reviewing your weekly/monthly giving data,  
  • having a good stewardship plan in place,  
  • and being a relational fundraiser.   

Finding New Major Donors

Find new major donors by tracking annual fund gifts.

So where do you start finding new major donors?  In the annual fund.  Begin to track donors who give multiple times a year; see what happens when you begin to ask this group for slightly larger gifts each time.   

One of the KPIs to look for is increased giving from annual campaign to annual campaign.  For example, if we had a donor who typically gave $200 every spring and then suddenly gave $1,000 in an end-of-the-year appeal, my annual fund manager made a note and put that person on my radar.  I would then call to thank them, which made a real difference. When I had someone in volunteer leadership make that call, I saw stunning results. 

Steward the donors you already have.

We once had a first-time donor give $250 out of the blue.  The team member running the annual fund put the new donor in our major gifts stewardship pipeline; we sent her a handwritten postcard thanking her for joining our giving family and telling her about the immediate impact their gift was making. As a result, the donor’s next gift was $2,000. At this level, our stewardship plan indicated the next step was to have our board chair make a phone call and thank her.  Once the chair made the call, she was surprised by what she learned.  The donor shared that one of the reasons she gave more is that she felt appreciated and seen.  The chair was shocked that the donor had never received a handwritten thank you note or a thank you call from an organization before.   

Our chair began further building the relationship when she asked the donor her story as it related to the organization—her “why,” if you will.  She learned that the donor had an affinity for helping young girls who lived in underserved communities.  This gave our chair an opportunity to discuss some of the new programming we were launching; the donor asked to learn more as she was interested in making a larger investment! 

Building meaningful relationships is key.

I know it sounds simplistic, but listening to your donors is incredibly important.  When donors reach out to your organization, make sure you follow up with them and find out why.   

I recently had a conversation with a friend who works in development at a museum. One of their museum members reached out to her department after receiving the museum’s quarterly magazine. He wanted to know more about the corporate sponsorship levels he saw on the back cover. She learned that this member owned a business and was interested in exploring ways that he could give through his company.  Over a few conversations, she worked to understand the member’s passion towards the museum’s mission. She did not push quickly. Instead, she took time to listen and develop a targeted proposal that centered around his interest in abstract art. His company became a $10,000 sponsor for a specific exhibition later that year.   

By listening to him, understanding his “why,” and being responsive, she turned a $125 annual member into a major donor. Now, she can continue her cultivation and create a long-term relationship that may result in a leadership gift to the museum’s upcoming capital campaign.  She built a trust with her donor which is what relational fundraising is all about. 

Major gift fundraising may seem daunting, but it doesn't have to be.

Every CRM or donor database is filled with potential major donors who are giving far below their capacity.

The key to finding new major donors and unlocking their potential lies in effective donor management. It’s not enough to simply identify major donors and ask for a large gift—the process requires building a relationship and engaging with donors on a personal level. By leveraging the data in your CRM or donor database, you can gain insights into donors’ giving patterns and interests, which can help inform your fundraising strategy. 

But it’s not just about asking for more money. Building a strong relationship with donors involves ongoing communication, showing gratitude and appreciation for their support, and providing regular updates on the impact of their gifts. This can help donors feel connected to the organization and its mission, and may even inspire them to become advocates for your cause.

Ultimately, the potential for major gifts is vast and largely untapped. By focusing on effective donor management, you can identify and cultivate major donors who have the capacity to make a significant impact on your organization’s financial sustainability and ability to achieve its mission. So don’t overlook the potential of your donor database—take the time to build relationships and engage with donors on a personal level, and watch your development program soar.

About the Author

Alexandra Reardon has 30 years of fundraising experience as a nonprofit executive and chief development officer. She specializes in major gifts, capital campaign management, and using impact stories to inspire giving. She is a Certified Fund Raising Executive. Connect with Alex on LinkedIn.

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