In this post, we'll discuss how you can identify and connect with major giving prospects.

How to Identify and Connect with Major Giving Prospects

Major gifts make up the majority of your nonprofit’s funding, and earning a new major donor is always a cause for celebration. However, the first step of identifying major giving prospects can often be the most challenging. Then, once they are discovered, your nonprofit’s journey of cultivating them into a major donor has just begun.

An effective major donor program requires strong data collection practices, effective donor appreciation and engagement, and the ability to see through long-term investments. After all, once you convert a major donor, your nonprofit should have a strategy to lead them to their next subsequent gifts.

To jumpstart your major donor program, this guide will explore how to identify and then start connecting with your top major giving prospects.

Conduct prospect research.

Few supporters begin their engagement with a nonprofit by making a major donation as their first gift. Rather, most major donors first appear like any other donor, requiring nonprofits to conduct prospect research to find major giving candidates.

Prospect research involves looking at a donor’s history, investments, and relationships with other donors to determine whether they have the affinity and capacity to make a major gift.

Tools like DonorSearch offer prospect screening and AI capabilities to help nonprofits more effectively understand donors’ affinity for and connection to their organization, as well as their capacity. Let’s take a closer look at both of these types of prospecting indicators.

Affinity

Is a donor interested in making a major gift to your nonprofit? Affinity is an evaluation of a donor’s attitude towards your nonprofit and whether they are likely to respond positively to a request for a major gift.

You can gauge a donor’s affinity by how they engage with your nonprofit. For example, donors you’ve retained long-term have demonstrated a commitment to your nonprofit, and those who participate in many engagement opportunities show a desire for increased involvement in your cause.

Capacity

Capacity is a measure of whether a donor has the funds available to make a major gift. Outright asking donors about their finances is generally poor stewardship. Instead, you can learn more about your donors by using prospecting databases and tools that can provide information about the following capacity indicators:

  • Previous gifts. Has a donor given to your nonprofit or another charitable organization before? Take note of what types of organizations they give to and in what quantities. If they have made a major contribution to a nonprofit similar to yours, a donor likely has both the capacity and affinity to become a major donor.
  • Political contributions. Donations to political campaigns demonstrate that a donor has a significant amount of funds they are willing to spend to exert their influence. Additionally, look into the candidates and legislation a donor has funded to determine if the policies they support align with your nonprofit’s mission.
  • Other investments. Real estate, stock holdings, and other investments indicate a donor has significant capital. If their investments are doing well, then you can also assume that a donor is making a significant income from these holdings, increasing their potential capacity.

Moderate donors who have the affinity but not the capacity to provide a major gift are still valuable supporters, and relationship cultivation may cause them to join your legacy giving program. Plus, dedicated supporters, regardless of capacity, provide engagement that makes your nonprofit appear more dynamic and active, which can persuade major donors that your nonprofit has the potential to make an impact and last for years to come.

Create a cultivation plan.

After identifying a few top major giving prospects, you can begin planning how to steward them. When selecting prospects to pursue, be conscious of the time and resources your nonprofit has available to dedicate to cultivating major donors. Sporadic interactions with many major donors are far less likely to be effective than dedicated stewardship of a handful of candidates, so choose your prospects wisely.

Collect data.

The more information you have about your major giving prospects, the more you can tailor your cultivation strategy to their exact preferences. NPOInfo’s guide to donor data management discusses the four main types of data to collect:

  • Demographics. A major giving candidate’s age, location, and employment status will be some of the first information you learn about them. This information can be gathered through basic donor surveys and even your donation form. Then, leverage it for your first outreach messages, such as personally inviting a major giving prospect who lives nearby to an upcoming event.
  • Contact information. Phone number, home address, and email address can likely all be gathered through your donation form. Ask donors for their communication preferences, and promote your social media accounts to encourage supporters to follow you. Then, match social media names to major donors.
  • Giving habits. How frequently does a donor give and in what amounts? Giving habits can help you determine a donor’s affinity for becoming a major donor. For example, a donor who has recently increased their giving amount by a significant margin might indicate they are ready to ramp up their support.
  • Interactions. Every time you interact with a major donor candidate, make note of it. This includes their event attendance, volunteer activity, emails they’ve opened, and social media posts they’ve engaged with.

You can track this information by assigning a major gift officer to each prospect. Your officers will be responsible for updating each of their prospect’s donor profiles and leveraging that data to make future interactions more successful.

For example, during a meeting over coffee, a major giving prospect might reference that they are currently facing financial setbacks. The gift officer would make a note of this in the donor’s profile and put off asking for a major contribution until the prospect indicates their financial situation has improved. Maintaining a consistent record of information is also essential if your nonprofit ever changes major gift officers, allowing the next officer to pick up where the previous one left off.

Show appreciation.

While all donors deserve a thank you, major donors require more extensive appreciation to build long-term relationships. Once a prospect makes a major gift, your stewardship efforts will shift focus on continuing the relationship to eventually persuade them to make their next gift. If a donor has a positive giving experience and feels fully appreciated, they are far more likely to give again.

eCardWidget’s guide on how to thank donors suggests several ways to show your appreciation, including:

  • Email
  • eCards
  • Website
  • Annual report
  • Exclusive progress updates
  • Handwritten letters
  • Phone calls
  • Video messages
  • Branded gifts
  • Facility tours
  • Donor wall
  • Appreciation events

Some of these ideas are obviously more impactful than others. For major donors, going the extra mile by calling them, sending gifts in the mail, and inviting them on a facility tour will make them feel like a part of your organization far more than a single thank-you email can. Combine your appreciation strategies, and use the data you’ve collected to thank major donors in a manner they’ll appreciate.

Form a one-on-one connection.

Major donors give to nonprofits they have a personal investment in. One of your major gift officers’ top responsibilities will be to build relationships with these donors through one-on-one interactions.

Use information collected in your donor profiles to plan your initial outreach. Share updates on campaigns donors have given to in the past, use the contact channels they have indicated a preference for, and arrange meetings based on their availability.

Often, connections with major donors will begin with communication via email and phone calls and eventually lead to in-person meetings. If possible, invite donors to events where your major gift officers can talk with them face-to-face and develop a personal rapport. From there, continue communicating with them and meeting up to facilitate their support for future gifts.


Receiving a new major gift can significantly improve your organization’s capacity and improve your ability to fulfill your mission. To build a successful, sustainable major gifts program, focus your efforts on identifying prospects, creating long-term relationships with them, and continually working to move them toward their next gift.

About the Author

This guest post was contributed by eCardWidget.

Tim Badolato is the CEO of eCardWidget, an innovative platform for digital employee recognition, donor acknowledgment, business marketing, and nonprofit marketing. He has a passion for using technology to drive positive outcomes for mission-driven businesses and nonprofits.

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