Who Gives? How to Identify Major Donors

Learn how to identify who could be a large donor.

At FUNKY BROWN CHICK, Inc., we understand that creating a fundraising strategy can be a lot of work. For example, many of you are incorporating several types of fundraising, including grants, events, and annual fund solicitations to find major donors. But when developing a diverse fundraising strategy, it’s beneficial to look at all areas of giving, including major gifts. While many people associate major gifts with extremely large donations, that doesn’t have to be the case. A major gift is just a large gift relative to the donations you normally receive. A major gift can be $5,000, $15,000, $50,000, or even $500! 

The biggest step in securing this gift, of course, is to come up with some prospects. When figuring out who to reach out to for major gifts, consider the following:

1. Your Current Donors

Take a look at your current donor list, a major gift may be closer than expected.

The donor most likely to give your organization a major gift may be closer than you think. The best way to begin your search is to start where you are – literally! Review your giving database. (Some suggest looking through the last five years of giving records.) Which donor(s) have given the most donations during this time period? Which donor(s) have given the largest donations? 

Think about other ways people may have contributed to your organization. Do you know someone who volunteers on a regular basis? Someone who consistently supports your events? These are the ambassadors and future giving prospects for your organization. Because they already have an affinity for your organization, they may be more likely to donate at higher levels. Once you’ve identified prospects you may already know, you can begin cultivating them.

2. Prospect Research

Identify wealth markers to support your prospect research

Okay, so you’ve looked through your database and come up with a few prospects. But to increase your chances of success, it never hurts to have a few more. At this point, some additional research can help. First step? Consult the folks in your organization who may have good contacts, particularly staff and board members. They may have some ideas on people your development team can reach out to. (If you are uncomfortable reaching out to staff and board members, this article discusses a couple of ideas to keep in mind.)

After consulting with people in your organization, it’s time to do a little research. With major gifts, it’s not enough to see if a prospect can give; with the information available you need to evaluate just how much an individual can give. This information is commonly called “wealth markers.” These markers include: 

  • Property Ownership. There is a strong correlation between owning high-value property and charitable giving. Studies have found that people owning property valued at $2 million or more are 17 times more likely to give. 
  • Political Donations and Other Giving. Checking out a prospect’s political donations will give your organization some valuable information. First, this can be a useful tool to better understand the politics of the donor you may want to cultivate. For example, if a prospect donates often to candidates that are on the opposite political spectrum to the stated values of your organization, you may decide that it’s best to not engage. 

If someone’s politics check out, you can then look at how much a person has given to political candidates. There appears to be a direct link between the size of political donations and increased charitable giving, as it’s been found that those who have given $2,500 or more are more likely to give. 

How do you find out how much someone has given to political candidates? The Federal Election Commission website has info on current and historical contributions to candidates and political action committees. 

It’s not just political giving. As it turns out, the best way to determine if someone will give, is to see if that person has given before. Studies have also found that a person who’s given at least $5,000 to one organization is anywhere from 5—32 times more likely to have given to another organization. 

  • Stock Ownership and Other Assets. While owning stock or other assets has not been found to have a direct link to giving, this information can give your organization information on a prospect’s potential capacity to give. You can find out more about a prospect’s stock holdings by running their name through the Securities and Exchange Commission’s database.

3. “Nontraditional” Donors

Millennials, Gen Zs, and Giving Circles are all great donor strategies.

While a lot of the discussion around major gifts focuses on wealth, large gifts don’t just have to come from the wealthy or more established. Millennials and Gen Zs are just as interested in helping organizations. With success in the tech and media industries, it is worth it to reach out to younger generations. In addition, consider reaching out to giving circles, entities where a group of individuals pool their money together in order to strengthen their giving power.

It’s been said that “10-20% of your donors are responsible for 80-90% of your organization’s donations.” We hope that these tips help you get in touch with that 10-20%! If you know you need expert assistance with major donors or any other aspect of your fundraising strategy, don’t hesitate to contact us – we’re happy to speak with you!