Because: That’s Where the Money Is!

Because: That’s Where the Money Is!

In the end, fundraising is about personal relationships. Done well, the relationship is between the donor and the organization, but every relationship begins between two individuals. And 90 percent of fundraising comes down to how well you’re doing at building those relationships.

Maybe instead of “fundraiser” you should be called “ambassador” or maybe just “friend.”

You know what kind of effort it takes to manage relationships in your own personal life. It’s not much less demanding in non-profit fundraising. Because of this, ambassadors recognize that they cannot manage intense cultivation – relationship-building – with every member, and they are constantly double checking that they are investing their time in their “major gift prospects”, donors who have the financial capacity to move the organization the farthest the fastest.

As an aside, I have almost completely given up the term “major donor.” It’s meaningless and sounds almost demeaning to “regular” donors. I use “major gift” instead as a measure of the type of giving decision involved, or “major gift prospect.” Note that this term is not based on what these donors have given to date, but rather what they could give if appropriately motivated. So a $25 member could be a major gift prospect, while a $5,000 might not be.

Regardless, none of this is to say that other members are not important, or that the organization should not be responsive to all members. But you only have so many minutes to devote to donor cultivation. Make sure you are getting the highest return on investment possible.

Managing your major gift prospects as a finite list, cultivating each donor’s specific interests, and asking them to invest significantly in your organization is the essence of your major gifts program.

Do you know who your major gift prospects are? How many can you name off the top of your head? More importantly, could your Board members name them?

I encourage the clients I work with to assemble a formal list of their major gift prospects. A starter list might number between 30 and 50 names, but I advocate striving for a list of about 100 – a “Top 100” list. Clearly this number could be higher with significant staff support, but most organizations I work with are much smaller.

Here are some ideas about how to start such a list:

  • Anyone whose gifts sum to $1,000 in a single year in any one of the last three years.
  • Anyone who made a gift of at least $250 as a single gift decision in the last three years.
  • Any planned giving donors, including anyone who may have indicated that your organization is a recipient of funds from their will.
  • Anyone who is currently giving to your organization at any level and who, by any estimation, is capable of giving $25,000 or more.
  • Anyone who is currently giving to your organization at any level and who is known to have given gifts of $10,000 or more to other organizations.

Note that the common denominator in each of those groups is that the person in question is a current donor! Think about systemized activities that might result in donors getting to know your board members, and board members getting to know your donors.

As always, your comments, responses, and questions are welcomed here and by email at



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