According to the GivingUSA reports for at least the last 5 years, more than 70% of the $378 billion contributed to nonprofits each year has come from individuals - and if you factor in family foundations, that number probably comes close to 80%.

Since individuals consistently make up the largest donor group, it is worth looking at how to can create a sustainable fundraising model that focuses on building relationships with your donors.

Annual Funds

Annual Funds are a perfect welcome to an organization when donors can get to know you better. Here are a few things to keep in mind for your annual fundraising:

  • Create a regular cadence of electronic and print communication that show donors how they made a difference and the results you have achieved because of their support.
  • Identify where to focus your attention. Look at donor giving over the past two fiscal years and the current one. Identify where can grow larger annual gifts and ensure that you are retaining the donors you have.
  • Tailor your Annual Fund through leadership giving circles or a monthly giving program to engage with those who may be potential major gift donors.

Middle Donors

The word "middle" often has a less than positive connotation. Think about it: "middle seat on a plane," "middle child," and "middle age." But "middle donors" are good news because they are the pipeline of your potential major supporters. They believe enough in you to self-select to make larger annual gifts with little to no cultivation by you.

Annual leadership giving circles provide a way to get to know these "middle donors" and cultivate their deeper interest in your work. Activities like:

  • special events only for leadership giving circle members
  • special communication tailored for this group
  • personalized outreach from your staff and volunteer leadership signal that their generosity is valued

If done correctly, you will likely see an increase in their annual giving and can better discern where there is major gift potential.

Major Gifts

Every nonprofit no matter the size can raise major gifts. If you have created a strong annual fund and begun to tailor an approach for your "middle donors," then you are on your way to major gift fundraising. There is no one definition of a major gift. For some it will be $1,000. For others it may be $50,000.

Major gift fundraising is relationship fundraising at its best because you really learn about your largest donors' interests and values to find alignment that results in transformational gifts. Even if you have a small staff, you can still raise major gifts. You will just want to keep your portfolio of major supporters small (25 is a manageable starting point) so you can really devote the staff and volunteer time to building relationships with them.

Individual donors - of whatever size - want to make a difference in this world. Whether it 's your $25 donor or your major donor, an individual giving program creates an opportunity to realize your shared dreams and vision for your work.



BARBARA O'REILLY, CFRE, is Principal of Windmill Hill Consulting, LLC. Her areas of expertise includes planning and directing capital campaigns, identifying and creating major gift relationships with high net-worth individuals and corporate and foundation donors, as well as developing annual fundraising plans.


More Like This:

Fundraising for Social Change: What's New, What's Hot; What's Over, What's Not (video)
Loving Your Midlevel Donors: Creating A Retention Program (recorded webinar)
How can I learn about researching and cultivating individual donors? (Knowledge Base Question)

Subscribe to Our Blog

When we publish a new blog post, you’ll get notified by email.

Interested in being a guest writer for our blog?

Learn How

Join Our Network!