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Identifying Major Donors: 4 Successful Strategies

Drawing of a man with spyglass standing in a boat on a sea of paper money

Major gift acquisition isn’t an easy feat. But, few things that are truly worthwhile are.

That’s why you have to be strategic about how you plan every stage of the process: from identification to cultivation to solicitation to stewardship. In this article, we’ll focus on the first stage in that process: prospect identification. 

Below, you’ll find four proven strategies for identifying major donors:

  1. Segment Your Database
  2. Study Past Giving
  3. Analyze Real Estate Ownership
  4. Utilize Your Board

We’ll cover each strategy on its own, but this article won’t be able to address all facets of major giving. That would take far more space and time. So, if you’re looking for more advice on this topic, check out GrantSpace's other blog posts on major gifts.

Now, let’s talk about identifying major donors.

   

Words Segment Your Database
1. Segment Your Database

You need to turn to your attention to your existing pool of donors as you begin your search for major gift prospects.

But before you can effectively take full advantage of your current list of donors, you’ll have to challenge yourself to take a hard look at your database.

Ask — Is the information here the most relevant? How can we use what we know to efficiently meet our goals?

If your answers are “We don’t think so,” or “We don’t know,” database segmentation is going to be a big help.

Since you’re starting with a large list of names and whittling them down to a much more manageable number, we recommend a tiered approach.

First — Only focus on donors who have given consistently.

When looking for major gift candidates in your existing donor pool, you’ll want your most loyal supporters. So start narrowing your list to only those who have regularly given.

Second — Put them in order of average gift size.

Logically, if you’re looking for major gift donors, the most likely candidates in your donor pool are going to be those who have a higher average gift size historically.

Of course, that doesn’t mean you should eliminate all donors who give smaller gifts, you just should prioritize them accordingly.

Third — Find candidates who have been longtime supporters.

Longtime support and loyalty go hand in hand. And loyalty is the number one factor to consider when looking for major gift prospects internally.

The Highlight: By segmenting out your most loyal donors with the largest giving record, you’re narrowing your donor pool down to an easier-to-manage list of major gift prospects.

   

image of words Study Past Giving
2. Study Past Giving

As the first tip alluded to in its discussion of donor segmentation, you’re going to want to study past giving.

There are two levels of past giving you’ll need to analyze:

  • Past giving to other nonprofits
  • Past giving to your nonprofit

What’s the predictive major gift value in each?

Individuals who have made a gift of $5,000-$10,000 to a nonprofit are five times more likely to make a charitable donation elsewhere than the average person (find more data like this on DonorSearch’s statistics page).

Information about other instances of giving can offer a window into both a prospect’s philanthropic interests and predicted giving level.

Past giving to your nonprofit indicates a loyalty and dedication to not only your cause but the very specific work you do. If you can find someone on your list of supporters who has the financial capacity to donate a major gift, you should jump on the opportunity to upgrade them.

Pro Tip: Given how likely loyal donors are to be open to upgrade opportunities, it’s critical that retention is a priority. And successful retention starts with proper thank yous.  

The Highlight: Past giving is the perfect way to begin your search for major gift prospects. You want to focus on the people most likely to give to your organization, and past giving indicates just that.

   

Image of words Analyze Real Estate Ownership
3. Analyze Real Estate Ownership

Imagine you have a prospect who owns $2 million+ in real estate. Do you know what that property ownership tells you about the prospect’s giving potential?

The prospect is 17 times more likely to give philanthropically than the average person. Yes — 17 times more likely. Real estate ownership is one of those rare data points that not only speaks to wealth but philanthropy as well.

In order to uncover how much real estate a prospect owns, you can search a variety of free sites, such as:

Equipped with an address, you should be able to ascertain values. Just remember, you won’t necessarily have an address for every property a person owns, so you might not be getting a complete picture of their real estate holdings.

Either way, real estate’s predictive value far outweighs the possible ambiguity about how much a prospect owns. Plus, there are even formulas that use data like real estate ownership to estimate total wealth, a helpful process for those seeking major gift prospects.

So whether you find prospects through mobile giving, the auction at your gala, or any and everything in between, aim to gather their home addresses.

The Highlight: Real estate is a versatile major gift indicator that warrants careful attention.

   

Image of text Utilize Your Board
4. Utilize Your Board

Your board is an overlooked major gift tool. And engaging them is a top fundraising strategy for a reason.

You likely know this. But you’ve also likely wondered what engaging your board looks like in practice. Well, getting them involved in major donor prospect identification is one such way.

Your board is filled with major gift potential. Between their own individual giving capacities and their connections within your community, it’s imperative that your major gift officers take the time to reach out to your board about major giving.

Often, a simple introduction from a board member to a major gift prospect can be the difference between securing a follow-up meeting and never even getting your foot in the door.

The Highlight: You have a deep bench of major gift potential working within your own organization. Utilize your board as the excellent major gift resource that they are.

* * * * *

Congrats! You now have an entire list of techniques to identify major gift prospects.

Taking this advice into account, it’s time to implement some major gift fundraising strategies and dive into this lucrative form of fundraising.




Image of Bill Tedesco

BILL TEDESCO is a well-known entrepreneur in the field of philanthropy with over 15 years of experience at the helm of companies serving the fundraising profession. He has personally conducted original research to identify markers of philanthropy and has developed modelling and analytical products that use those markers to accurately predict future giving. Since 2007, he’s been the founder, CEO and Managing Partner of DonorSearch, which provides wealth screening, philanthropic reviews, and online prospect research tools exclusively to the nonprofit market.

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