CP-Top Nonprofits-7 Markers of a Major Gifts Prospect-feature

You want them, but you don’t know how to find them. We’re talking about major gift givers, the stars of your nonprofit once you know how to identify them.

There’s no single characteristic that defines major donors. But with a combination of these 7 key markers, you’ll learn how to combine your resources to find the major givers in your prospect pool:

  1. Wealth
  2. History of Frequent Giving
  3. Political Contributions
  4. Real Estate Ownership
  5. Philanthropic Participation
  6. Investment in Your Cause
  7. Company Connections

With these key characteristics and the knowledge of how to leverage them, you’ll be ready to narrow down your list of prospects to a set you can treat as major donors.

Ready? Let’s jump in!

CP-Top Nonprofits-7 Markers of a Major Gifts Prospect-header1

1. Wealth

Why this Major Gift Marker Matters

It’s almost too obvious, but your first step in identifying major donors should be to identify those prospects who have the means to become major donors.

There isn’t one agreed-upon amount that constitutes a major gift or income that defines a major donor. A major donor to a smaller grassroots nonprofit would hardly be considered major at a large university with a robust alumni endowment fund.

Sometimes, an indication of wealth isn’t actually financial: entrepreneurship, for instance, or individuals who focus on adding assets to their portfolio instead of just increasing their salary.

How To Leverage This Major Gift Marker

Unless you plan on knocking on your prospects’ doors and asking for their tax returns, you’ll need a public way to check their wealth. To do this, you could hire a wealth screening service, or you could do a little poking around yourself.

If you decide to go it alone, try checking for stock ownership. You can search for prospects free and publicly on SEC.gov! The amount of money a prospective donor has invested in stocks and securities can give you an indication of their total wealth. Plus, donors can always transfer stocks to your nonprofit instead of making an outright donation.

It’s essential to remember that wealth isn’t everything when it comes to major gifts. There are plenty of billionaires out there who don’t care a whit for charitable causes. So to narrow down your prospect pool from wealthy individuals to wealthy individuals who will actually donate to your cause, you need more parameters.

CP-Top Nonprofits-7 Markers of a Major Gifts Prospect-header2

2. History of Frequent Giving

Why this Major Gift Marker Matters

One of the best ways to judge whether an individual is not just wealthy but also philanthropically inclined is to research if they’ve given to nonprofits in the past.

Even better are prospects who have actually given to your nonprofit before. If they haven’t given a major gift before, don’t count them out — they’re demonstrating that they care about your organization and the cause you represent.

How To Leverage This Major Gift Marker:

Assuming you’ve kept reliable records and given that some charitable giving information from other nonprofits is publicly available, you could do this research yourself. You could also bring on a major gift officer to help you out, or hire a consultant.

If you’re searching for past giving yourself through public channels or your own databases, don’t forget:

  • Nicknames: Too many nonprofits miss out on potential major donors by forgetting to search for common nicknames, not just first and last names.
  • Other avenues to donate: Outright monetary donations aren’t the only way to give. Searching event attendance and volunteer check-ins also indicate a donor’s involvement in campaigns.

Remember when reaching out to prospects with a long history of giving that they’re used to receiving communications from nonprofits. You need to make sure your messages to them stand out. If you’re sending email communication, ensure that you’re following email fundraising best practices so your message doesn’t get buried.

CP-Top Nonprofits-7 Markers of a Major Gifts Prospect-header3

3. Political Contributions

Why this Major Gift Marker Matters

Think about it: An individual feels strongly enough about a topic to donate a lot of money to a political cause, knowing that their donation will be made public by law.

A person who’s willing to publicly support their political passions is likely to support their other passions in the same way, right? Plus, individuals who are able to donate significant amounts to political campaigns are likely to have the resources for a significant donation elsewhere.

The statistics back up this intuition, and the correlation is actually striking: A $2,500 political donation makes an individual 14 times more likely to make a charitable donation.

How To Leverage This Major Gift Marker:

A prospect’s political contributions can tell you more than their likelihood to make a charitable donation. Look at the political causes they support. Is there a connection to the causes your organization supports?

Another way researching political contributions can pay off is in the connections you can draw. If you notice that many of your current or prospective donors are invested in the same political cause, you could reasonably assume that there’s something about that cause that attracts the same type of people as your nonprofit.

Given that connection, you could expand your major gift search to other people involved in the same political cause. You might not have considered them before, but now you have a reason to.

CP-Top Nonprofits-7 Markers of a Major Gifts Prospect-header4

4. Real Estate Ownership

Why this Major Gift Marker Matters

As with political contributions, real estate ownership can statistically tell you a lot about your donors.

According to DonorSearch, an individual whose real estate properties are valued at $2 million or more is 17 times more likely to make charitable donations than an individual who owns less.

That alone should be enough to add real estate ownership to your list of important markers. But you can learn even more about your donors besides their inclination to give, like which causes they might be interested in supporting.

How To Leverage This Major Gift Marker:

Chances are that owners and investors have a connection to the geographic area around their properties. They or someone they know might live in the community and are therefore impacted by the quality of life in the area. At the very least, the better the community is, the more their investment is worth!

Think about campaigns that could really benefit from major donors who are invested in their geographic community:

  • The suburban hospital needs money to build a new surgery wing.
  • A historic library is raising money to renovate the computer lab with new desktops.
  • The local youth soccer league is expanding to a bigger field with higher maintenance costs.

If your cause has a stake in a particular geographic region, check for your prospects who own significant real estate nearby. You might have just found a major donor for a campaign that benefits the area they care about.

CP-Top Nonprofits-7 Markers of a Major Gifts Prospect-header5

5. Philanthropic Participation

Why this Major Gift Marker Matters

Remember that there’s more than just one way to get involved in the nonprofit world. Supporters can donate money to fundraising campaigns, but they can also:

  • Sit on the board or hold another executive position.
  • Participate in peer-to-peer fundraising campaigns.
  • Volunteer or attend events regularly.

If a prospect is involved in a nonprofit in ways other than monetary donations, they’re showing you something incredibly valuable about the kind of donor they could be to you.

How To Leverage This Major Gift Marker:

When looking for major donor who will stick around past a one-time gift, look for a demonstrated dedication to the nonprofit sector outside monetary donations.

Active involvement outside donation means that a prospect can sustain involvement in a nonprofit, and that’s what you’re looking for in a long-term major gift giver.

Just knowing that a donor is active in the nonprofit world is a huge indicator of major donor status. But you can also investigate what organizations and causes they gravitate toward to determine if they would be interested in supporting yours.

CP-Top Nonprofits-7 Markers of a Major Gifts Prospect-header6

6. Investment in Your Cause

Why this Major Gift Marker Matters

So you’ve screened for wealth and you’ve looked for indications that your prospect is philanthropically inclined. Combining those two metrics will tell you if your prospect has the means and desire to give charitably.

But how do you know if they’re going to give charitably to your organization instead of to others?

Donors give with their hearts, so prospects who have a demonstrated connection to the cause you support are more likely to give to your organization in particular.

How To Leverage This Major Gift Marker:

That connection might take the form of past donations to your nonprofit or others like yours, but that’s just one way to judge what causes are important to an individual.

Remember that it’s not just your prospects’ interests in the nonprofit sector that can help you pinpoint a valuable major donor. Consider factors outside philanthropy to find connections to your cause:

  • Does this prospect have children? They might be interested in fundraising for a school or a children’s hospital.
  • Is this prospect invested in sports? Fundraisers for a local sports team or programs to involve children in after-school activities might appeal to this donor.
  • Does this donor participate in active hobbies? If your nonprofit holds charity 5Ks or other similar events, this donor might want to participate.

Knowing specifics about your prospect’s interests, philanthropic or otherwise, will help you craft personalized and engaging donation request letters. Messages about specific campaigns, especially those that demonstrate the sender understands the values of the recipient, are better received than messages that feel like impersonal email blasts.

CP-Top Nonprofits-7 Markers of a Major Gifts Prospect-header7

7. Company Connections

Why this Major Gift Marker Matters

Your major gift prospects’ employment information can give you more information than you think. Sure, knowing that they’re employed means that they have resources to donate, but what else could you learn?

Enter the world of employee giving programs. Through matching gift programs, mid-sized gifts become major gifts, and major gifts become an even bigger deal.

How To Leverage This Major Gift Marker:

If your prospect works at a company that offers a matching gift program, whatever donation they were going to give has a chance to be worth more than they thought.

Many contenders for major donations own or hold leadership positions in their own companies. These prospects are important not just because their own donations can be matched, but because they can affect the matching gift program of the entire company.

If these prospects become your major donor, you have an automatic connection to everyone who works for them — and all of their matched donations.

Though matching gift programs are the most popular corporate giving programs, they certainly aren’t the only ones. Be sure to check your major gift prospects for connections with companies who offer ways to partner with nonprofits, like the ones on Fundly’s list of 90+ companies that donate to nonprofits.

None of these 7 distinctive markers can stand on its own in your search for major donors. By leveraging them all together, though, you can’t go wrong in your search.

Remember that finding major donors is just the first step. Soliciting donations based on what you know about your supporters and then keeping them on board are your next steps.

Good luck!