In my last post, I set the context for all organizations who want MORE major donors. As I said, almost every non-profit Richard and I talk to wants to increase the size of their major gift program. Who doesn’t, right?
But unfortunately, most folks in non-profit leadership (except those in development) think that these potential major donors are somewhere “outside” of their organization. I sometimes wonder if these Executive Directors and CEOs think there is a special island somewhere with Major Donors living on it, and you just need to go visit that island and bring them home.
This is the “grass is always greener” syndrome. For some reason, leadership comes to believe the donors in your donor database just aren’t good enough, and they pressure you to take a trip to that mythical island to find some.
You do NOT need to visit Major Donor Island. First of all it doesn’t exist, and secondly, if you are a medium-sized to large non-profit ($10 million+), your major donors are already in your database. You don’t need to go anywhere.
At Veritus Group, we are adamant about this. You have what you need right now. But it will take hard work, discipline, focus and more hard work to develop those donors into major donors – who will invest significantly in your mission.
The tension arises, however, because leadership wants the money NOW. That is not likely to happen when you are building a new program. This is because, as you know, a major gift program is about building relationships. That takes time.
So how do you find these major donors in your database and grow your major gift program?

  1. Create your major donor pool. Just like a small non-profit, you want to find all donors who have given $1,000+ cumulatively in any one of the last four years. These will NOT all become major donors, but this is your pool.
  2. Wealth Information — For any medium to large organization, I think it’s imperative that you invest in running your database up against a wealth indicator database. There are plenty out there for you to choose from. While this is not 100% foolproof, this helps to confirm an already high-dollar donor for you; it also helps to identify potential wealth from lower-dollar donors who will not show up in your previously-identified pool of potential major donors. I know some non-profit organizations who do this not only with their current database, but with any new donor. No matter how large or small a donation, the new donor is put through this wealth indicator database.
  3. Review trends in donor giving. You may have some donors that are under the $1,000 cume level each year, but they give 4-12 gifts per year. That shows loyalty, and with some research you will know if they have both the propensity and capacity to become a major donor. In other words, loyalty shows passion for mission. Now you just need to figure out capacity.
  4. Review all planned giving donors. For some reason many organizations overlook their planned giving donors as potential major donors. Don’t. Just because someone has committed to estate giving or has done some other planned gift doesn’t mean they can’t give a cash gift now. Remember, donors have life! They want to give more… unless they have told you specifically that this was all they can give.
  5. Involve your stakeholders. Just like a small organization, major gifts can be helped tremendously by engaging your CEO, board members and current major donors to help you identify donors in your donor database. Once identified, they can help you cultivate and steward these donors to make an investment into your mission.
  6. Start a comprehensive mid-level program — I’ve written about this quite a bit, but visualize a mid-level program as a tunnel that you’re chiseling away, so you can finally break though and drive through smoothly. In all of our A/B testing with mid-level programs, we are significantly improving the number of donors that move into major gift programs. We’re helping these donors break through that tunnel! You can do this, too.

You have major donors in your database. You have a guide here to go find them. Now you just need to actually work it. You can do it! Those donors are waiting for you.