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How to Find Individual Major Donors

By Nell Edgington

There is a holy grail in the world of nonprofit fundraising that eludes most organizations. And that is, how to attract individual major donors. Everyone wants them, but few organizations know how to actually find them. However, if you are strategic and systematic, it doesn’t have to be that hard.

Here are the steps to an major individual donor campaign:

  1. Define a major gift. A major gift is not the same for every nonprofit. A major gift for your organization is a level at which you have a few donors already, but below which the vast majority of your donors are. For some organizations this is $50, for others this is $1 million. It completely depends on the size of your organization and the level of your donor base.

  2. Create a goal. If you don’t have a dollar goal for how much you would like to bring in this year in major gifts, chances are you probably aren’t going to bring in much. Set a stretch goal for the organization that everyone (board, staff, volunteers) can believe in and contribute to.

  3. Break the goal into pieces. It’s not enough to say you want to raise $50,000 from major donors this year. You need to break that goal into achievable pieces. Think about what levels make sense for where your current donor base is. Typically you start with one lead gift that is 10-20% of the total goal. Then go down from there, increasing the number of donors you need at each level.

  4. Develop a prospect list. Be strategic about who could actually be a hot prospective donor to your organization. They have to possess more characteristics than simply having money. Anyone who has money is probably a prospect for every other nonprofit in town. Instead analyze each prospect along three dimensions: 1) Do they have a passion for the cause your organization is about?  2)Do they have some connection to the organization or someone within the organization already? If they have absolutely no connection to your organization, they are a waste of time. 3)Finally, do they have the capacity to give at your major donor level? Have they given similar amounts to other nonprofits? Do they have some disposable income? It’s amazing what you can find out about people through a quick Google search.

  5. Create a tracking system. A major donor campaign is much like the sales cycle in a for-profit business. You find potential customers (prospects), qualify them (along the three criteria in #4 above), get to know their interests and values through one-on-one meetings, make the ask, and finally thank them and demonstrate what their investment has allowed you to do in the community. This process is called the moves management system, and it is simply a way to track how your organization moves people from prospects to donors in a systematic and strategic way.

  6. Launch the campaign. The rest is easy. Just get out there with your board and staff and start meeting with people, getting to know them and making the ask.

And remember, this is not just the work of the Executive Director and Development Director. You will not find individual major donors without the help of your board. Each board member must have a role in the campaign. And there is plenty for those who hate to ask for money to do.

It is possible for any nonprofit organization to have major donors. It’s just a question of being strategic and systematic.

If you want to learn more about finding major donors, watch our Finding Individual Donors webinar or download our Creating a Major Donor Campaign step-by-step guide.

Photo Credit: lostintheredwoods

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About the Author: Nell Edgington is President of Social Velocity (, a management consulting firm leading nonprofits to greater social impact and financial sustainability. Social Velocity helps nonprofits grow their programs, bring more money in the door, and use resources more effectively. For more information, check out Social Velocity consulting services and clients.

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