How to Turn Current Donors Into Major Donors

Image: Sujin Jetkasettakorn at

Image: Sujin Jetkasettakorn at

If you are starting up a major gifts program, you know that the most promising prospects for major donors is that pool of people who ALREADY donate to your organization. After all, as current donors they know and love your work and mission so they might be open to donating more.

But here’s something to keep in mind: Not EVERY donor will become a major donor. Not even half of them. Not even one third. Your pool of major donors is by nature a small group. Remember the donor pyramid?

Seems obvious, right? Yet there are many small to medium organizations trying to cultivate portfolios of 200-300 names from their annual donor list in hopes that some of these (which ones?!?) will become major donors.

200-300 is certainly too many names for a small nonprofit and most likely too many names for a medium nonprofit. How can you meaningfully engage with this many individuals, couples, or families? You can’t.

To narrow your list, you can answer a raft of questions about each donor, a process called qualifying donors.

The Capacity Question

But here is the one question that arguably matters most, at least when we’re talking about major donors: Does your donor have the capacity to make a major gift?

To move donors up the pyramid is a time intensive process and you must be certain that all of your time and energy is focused not just on SOME people who might work out, but on the RIGHT people who have the capacity to give.

Capacity doesn’t guarantee a gift, of course – your donor must WANT to support your mission at a higher level – but at least you know you are talking to someone for whom a major gift is possible!

How can you answer the capacity question for your major donor prospects? It’s a multi-pronged effort:

Donor Loyalty and Amount – Look at the data you already have on a donor. They are donating how regularly? At what level? Loyalty in particular can give you a clue that larger gifts might be possible.

Internet Research – It’s a little scary how much free information you can dig up on people via the Internet. Much of it – stock holdings, real estate, gifts to other nonprofits – will give you insight into your donors’ giving capacity.

Wealth Screening – Using a tool like Wealth Engine or Donor Scape can save a lot of time in the early stages of determining a donor’s capacity. Beware though – these tools rarely tell the full story.

Other People – Feedback from a group of in-the-know folks like board members, longtime volunteers or community leaders can be invaluable in this process. Friends, acquaintances, neighbors and colleagues of your major gift prospects may know things about your donors that you won’t find in any database or wealth screening tool.

A portfolio of 20-30 names with real giving capacity is plenty to get a major gifts program off the ground. Stay focused and avoid spreading yourself too thin by asking the capacity question FIRST.

What are your thoughts about the Capacity Question and raising major gifts from current donors? Please share your experiences, thoughts and ideas in the Comments box below!

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