<< Back Next >>


Step 4 (continued). Membership - Major Donors

After establishing a strong base of individuals giving through volunteering and annual membership, your organization is ready to begin soliciting larger donations from individuals. Many organizations derive as much as 60% of their individual member revenues from 10% of their donors. Major donors are individuals that give gifts to your organization above a specific threshold level that is defined by your organization. The level should be determined by the budget of your organization and the demographics of your area. A major donor program is a way to encourage current donors to increase the amount of their donations over time. It includes recognizing your donors' contributions, thanking them personally, and getting them more involved in your organization.

To undertake a major donor program, your organization needs:

  • A clear mission statement and history of accomplishments. Before individuals make large gifts to an organization, they need to clearly understand the organization's purpose and see that the group is accomplishing tangible results.
  • A committed base of members. The best source of major donor prospects is individuals who have joined the organization and have an established commitment to its work through at least annual donations. Donors who have given repeatedly and volunteer with the organization are excellent prospects.
  • Opportunities to involve individuals in the work of the organization. Most large gifts to nonprofits come from individuals who serve on committees or boards or are involved in some meaningful way in the work of the organization.
  • Staff, board and volunteers who are willing to ask for gifts in person. Asking for money in person is at least twice as effective as asking by telephone, and almost always results in larger gifts. The ABC Rule of Prospecting states that if the person is able to give, believes in your mission, and is connected to the person who asks, there is at least a fifty percent chance of getting a gift.
  • A system that allows you to record, retrieve, and analyze information about individuals, including their giving history.

The process of seeking major donor contributions includes the following steps:

  • Identify that 10%-20% of your members that has the potential to become larger contributors over time. A good place to start is by looking at all your members who have made a one-time gift of $50 or more as potential major donor prospects (unless you have some personal knowledge of the person that makes you think otherwise).
  • Build donor loyalty. One easy way to make these prospects feel appreciated is to send them an annual report with a note from the director, a copy of a recent news article, or a special bulletin on one of your projects. You may want to call your best prospects and give them some good news, or ask them to get involved in some specific way. One rule of thumb is that you should try to have at least four meaningful contacts a year with these prospects.
  • Ask your prospects to increase their gift to $100 or more and become "major donors." The amount you ask each prospect for will be based on a number of factors including: their past giving, their level of involvement in the organization, their giving record with other groups (if that is available), and your research on their financial capacity. This is best done in person, because people are more likely to give and almost always give more in response to a face-to-face request.

Citation: See Resources, Works Cited #11

<< Back Next >>