Major Gifts

How to Find Major Donors for Your Nonprofit

Looking for more major donors? Here are eight steps nonprofits of all sizes can take to find new major donors and increase revenue from individual giving.

Major donors typically account for 90 percent of a nonprofit’s fundraising revenue. This donor cohort comprises, on average, just 10 percent of a nonprofit’s entire donor base, but provides large or recurring gifts that fuel mission-critical initiatives. Finding new major donors can elevate your nonprofit’s work and add financial stability to your operations.

However, making big fundraising requests can be intimidating, which prevents some nonprofits from asking for major gifts. The good news is that interested ears may already be closer than you realize. Below, we’ll share eight steps you can take to find major donors for your nonprofit. Each leverages your existing connections or helps tap into warm introductions to people already friendly toward your cause. These steps show how nonprofits of all sizes can secure major donors and reap the benefits of this generous funding.

1. Review Your Mid-Level Donor Cohort

Mid-level donors fall between your annual donors and major donors. They tend to give relatively high recurring donations and increase that amount annually. On top of these donations, mid-level donors may offer additional gifts or in-kind donations throughout the year to support specific campaigns. Their relationship with your nonprofit goes beyond an initial interaction or light-touch engagement.

If you’re looking to cultivate new major donors, reviewing your current mid-level donor list is a great place to start. These donors likely already view their support of your cause as part of their identity, so the idea of joining your top-tier givers may appeal to them. 

As you build relationships with existing donors, collect information about your stewardship process and their interests in your donor database. Using a solution like Instil provides holistic donor profiles that help you notice who from your mid-level giving programs, project sustainer initiatives, or recurring gift efforts shine through as good candidates for a major gift. You’ll be able to see when their engagement level reaches a threshold that rivals that of your current major donors and make your request at the right time.

2. Get to Know a Supporter’s Community

Another way that keeping holistic donor profiles supports finding major donors for your nonprofit is through understanding supporters’ wider networks. A grassroots donor or volunteer may not have the capacity to personally donate a major gift, but they might have a friend, family member, or colleague who does. 

If your relationships are strong, supporters will see their connection to your nonprofit as a piece of their identity and want to share about their involvement with others. As you grow your relationships with supporters, ask them to refer you to their connections to help broaden your pool of prospects. These warm handoffs help start major gift conversations off with a strong vote of confidence from someone your prospective donor already trusts.

3. Highlight Specific Funding Opportunities

If you’re planning to “cold call” potential major donors, you’ll find greater success if your request is specific. This means both telling the donor exactly what programs or costs you’ll use their gift for, as well as why spending it in that way is so important for your mission. Ideally, you’ll also tell them what they’ll receive in return for their gift and how you’ll measure and report on its impact.

For example, let’s say you’re a nonprofit that supports after-school enrichment programs for children. Asking for $10,000 to support your programs is a bit nebulous. Instead, you could ask for $10,000 to support construction of a new playground at your facility. You can share data on how research has shown that the power of play enhances children’s abilities to retain new information. You can offer to name the new playground after your donor, invite them to tour it after it's built, and share how you’ll survey your program’s participants to see how the playground improves their abilities to learn.

When reaching out to potential major donors, make sure your appeals are specific so they can envision their involvement in detail.

4. Research Who Is Funding Similar Nonprofits

In addition to tailoring your major gift requests to specific projects, you can increase your success rate by targeting prospects who have already shown an interest in your cause. 

Review the websites of and your connections with other nonprofits working on your cause or in a related field for clues. Learn which families, individuals, or foundations are sponsoring them. For example, you can see who put up the funding for their last matching campaign or who the sponsors were for their annual gala.

You can either cultivate some of these major donors to join your nonprofit’s work as well or research other individuals and groups they’re connected with for additional ideas for prospects. As you connect with these supporters, make sure to differentiate yourself from other nonprofits. Show what makes you special and how you’re advancing the cause in a unique way while acknowledging their past connections to your overall mission.

5. Ask Your Board Members for Help

Board members are an extension of your fundraising team, so don’t be afraid to put them to work. Ask them for ideas on who from their networks might be a good candidate for major donor stewardship. They can provide introductions for you, or even help make the request. You might also consider whether any of your board members have the capacity to become major donors themselves. 

If a board member provides a major gift for one of your projects, ensure there are checks and balances in place to avoid any conflicts of interest. Major donors who are board members should be able to bring specific skills to your board in addition to their gift. A good role for them might be serving on your board’s development committee. As major donors themselves, these board members “walk the talk,” placing them in a special position to ask others for support.

6. Search for Foundations Funding Your Cause

Many foundations, especially local, regional, or family organizations, target their giving toward specific causes. Research foundations in your area or within your state that are interested in the type of work you do.

As you identify ones that are a good fit for your nonprofit, apply for relevant grant opportunities and make appeals directly to the foundation. You can also look at who serves on their boards for potential individuals to cultivate as major donors. If they’re working for an organization that supports your cause, there’s a high likelihood they personally give to related nonprofits as well.

7. Learn More About Top Donors From Your Events

Events are hotspots for donor engagement. They provide opportunities for supporters to gather and make memories while supporting a good cause. With Instil’s mobile-friendly platform, you can collect donor data on-the-go at your events to help parse out which attendees might be good candidates for major donor stewardship.

Before, during, and after your event, use donor data to answer questions to learn more about major donor prospects, such as:

  • Is this event attendee new to your nonprofit? If so, how did they learn about you and what’s their philanthropic background?
  • Who were the top donors at your event? Are they already major donors or can they be cultivated to become one?
  • Who bid on your highest priced auction item? Are they already a major donor or can they be cultivated to become one?
  • Which prospects asked for more information or additional ways to be involved? What are our plans to follow up with them?

During your event, collect contact information for any new donors for easy follow-up afterwards.

8. Hire a Major Gifts Officer

Finding major donors and then cultivating them can be a full-time job. If your budget allows for it, hire someone to take on this specific role. Doing so will ensure you don’t let other donor cohorts slip through the cracks while focusing on your major donor stewardship activities. 

While funding this position requires an upfront cost, the position could very well pay for itself in time. With a dedicated major gifts officer, you’ll increase the likelihood of securing large donations to fund your operations for years to come.

Download: Donor Cultivation & Stewardship Plan Template

Use Existing Resources and Connections to Cultivate New Major Donors for Your Nonprofit

Finding major donors doesn’t need to feel like an insurmountable task. By tapping into your existing networks, using your donor data effectively, and tailoring your requests to specific needs, you may find that prospects are closer than you realize.

Instil can help simplify the major donor stewardship process. With holistic donor profiles, you can quickly see which supporters are ready to move up a level or who might be able to connect you to a donor with the capacity for a large gift. Schedule a demo today to learn more and start securing your next major gift.

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