4 Signs That You’ve Found a Major Donor for Your Nonprofit

4 Signs That You've Found a Major Donor for Your Nonprofit

You know your nonprofit is in need of major gifts, so you’ve put together a team to scour your donor database for the best possible prospects. You’ve found a few who you think might fit the bill, but how do you know if you’ve really found a viable prospect?

Major donors are a vital part of any successful long-term fundraising plan, so it’s worth taking the extra time to ensure you’re moving in the right direction. Looking out for these four signs in a prospect can help you stay on the right track:

  1. They’re clearly aligned with your nonprofit’s mission.
  2. They have multiple capacity markers.
  3. They’ve demonstrated a habit of charitable giving.
  4. They’re a highly engaged supporter.

As we explore each of these signs in more detail, keep in mind that every prospect you consider should have some kind of relationship with your organization already. Cultivating potential donors that you have an existing connection to is much easier and more effective than starting from scratch. With that in mind, let’s dive in!

1. They’re clearly aligned with your nonprofit’s mission.

The goal of major donor research is to find prospects who have the affinity, capacity, and propensity to give in large amounts to your nonprofit, as they’ll be the most likely to make a major gift.

The first indicator, affinity, refers to a prospect’s personal alignment with your mission and warmth towards your cause. For someone to consider donating thousands of dollars to your organization, they need to have a strong, secure belief in the work you do. But how do you tell if a donor is truly aligned with your mission?

To find out if your donor has the affinity to give a major gift, look into their:

  • Past involvement with your nonprofit: If a donor has attended multiple events, given in-kind donations, or provided other support to your organization in the past, it’s likely that they believe in your mission and will want to help again in the future.
  • Personal connections: Existing relationships with your nonprofit’s board members or other major donors can indicate that your prospect has similar views and may be on the same page about your mission. 
  • Other relevant affiliations: Is the donor active with any like-minded nonprofits in your community? Do they donate to political campaigns that align with your organization’s values? Look for affiliations that demonstrate the prospect’s interest in and dedication to similar causes. 

Along with these indicators, explore any notes your staff members have made about the donor in your donor database. For example, if a note says that they seemed especially interested in a certain aspect of your cause, they may have a high affinity to give to campaigns relating to that aspect.

2. They have multiple capacity markers.

Next, determine if your prospect has the financial capacity to give a major gift. Using wealth screening tools and philanthropic databases, you can find information about financial markers your donors have that indicate they may be in a good financial position to make a major gift.

DonorSearch’s wealth screening guide points out that major donor prospect screening has evolved to encompass more than just wealth data. Now, aspects such as a donor’s affinity and propensity to give to causes like yours are also considered. However, it’s still vital to ensure that your prospect has the financial means to make a major gift before moving any further in the research process.

The ideal prospect should have multiple markers that indicate a high capacity to give. These might include:

  • A high-income career
  • Owning real estate
  • Business ownership or affiliations
  • Stock holdings

Beyond prospect research databases, you can look for these markers in real estate property records, matching gift databases, SEC filings, and even social sites like LinkedIn. If your prospect has more than one capacity marker, they likely have funds available to give.

3. They’ve demonstrated a habit of charitable giving. 

After ensuring that your prospect has enough warmth towards your cause and the financial means to give a major gift, check if they have the propensity to do so—essentially, do they have a habit of giving to charitable causes like yours? 

To find propensity information on your donor, follow these steps:

  1. Find your prospect’s giving history in your own donor database first. Have they donated to your organization before? Which campaigns have they donated to? How much?
  2. Explore resources like other nonprofits’ donor lists. Check if your prospect’s name appears on the donor lists of any organizations with similar causes. 
  3. Look at other organizations’ boards. Serving on another nonprofit’s board demonstrates a significant commitment to supporting charitable causes.

For example, say the prospect that you’re zeroing in on is named Chrystal. You know that Chrystal has a high position at a prominent tech company, owns a vacation home, and supports a local politician whose values align with yours. When researching her propensity to give, you find out that she contributed to a capital campaign you hosted a few years ago. By looking at donor lists, you see that she regularly donates to environmental causes like yours, and you learn that she serves on the board of another nonprofit in your community.

Chrystal has the affinity, capacity, and propensity to give a major gift to your nonprofit, so you make an outreach plan and start cultivating your relationship!

4. They’re a highly engaged supporter.

Lastly, supporters that you already have positive, long-term relationships with can make some of the best major donor prospects. If your prospect checks all of the boxes we’ve discussed and they’re a highly engaged supporter, there’s a good chance you’ve found your next major donor. 

Specifically, pay attention to those who:

  • Attend your fundraising events frequently
  • Volunteer often
  • Serve on your board
  • Provide feedback on programs
  • Have expressed interest in particular upcoming campaigns or initiatives

Those who have already demonstrated interest in these types of involvement activities can also be easier to cultivate and steward after they make a gift. According to Donorly’s guide to finding major donors, it’s important to provide major donors with opportunities for meaningful engagement beyond donating to develop a lasting relationship. For instance, if your prospect already loves to volunteer, providing additional opportunities to sustain that relationship will be a breeze.

Once you’ve identified that your major donor prospect has markers in each of these categories, you can get to work on strengthening your relationship with them as part of the donor cultivation process. If you need help navigating this process or creating a thorough cultivation strategy, don’t be afraid to reach out to consultants who can help.