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Reader Question: How to Find Major Donors

By Nell Edgington

Last month I launched a new regular series on the blog called Reader Questions. I receive so many great questions from readers that I decided that at least once a month I would pick a reader’s question to answer. It can be about anything related to nonprofits, social entrepreneurship, boards, financing, fundraising, social innovation, philanthropy, you name it.

If you have a burning question that you would like answered, fill out the form here. And you can read past blog posts in the Reader Questions series here.

This month’s question comes from a nonprofit leader in Hong Kong. But his question is universal:

Dear Nell,

Congratulations on this great idea! Also for the excellent training given by your Webinars. I have one question–I am working in Hong Kong in a charity. Our goal is to organize a fundraising office here. As you may know, Hong Kong is a place where most of the people speak Cantonese. I speak English, and my staff is very limited–we are two. We are trying to develop our major donor program but it is quite difficult for us to expand and grow our portfolio of major donors. Any advice about how to expand our major donor list?

Thank you for your answer.

Yvan Castro


This is a great question and one on the minds of many, if not most, nonprofit leaders. Major donors can sometimes seem to be the holy grail of the nonprofit world. In order to expand your major donor list, you need a network of more than just you and your fellow staff member. The first place to look is your board. If correctly trained and successfully integrated into an overall major donor process, the board can instantly expand your network, your knowledge base and your ability to secure major gifts. And especially in your case, they can expand your ability to reach beyond your own language and cultural networks.

There are several steps to finding major donors for your organization.

  1. Define a Major Gift. Your organization’s major donor level completely depends on the size and capacity of your current donor base. A major gift for a nonprofit is a level at which you have a few donors, so it’s not outside the realm of possibility, but most of your donors reside below that level.

  2. Create a Goal. Once you have defined a major donor level you need to develop a major donor goal. How much are you currently raising at and above the major donor level you have just defined? What level of investment are you willing to put into this effort (additional staff, materials, database, etc)? Given that investment how much do you think you can grow those major donor gifts in this first year?

  3. Break the Goal into Pieces. If you want to raise, say $100,000 from major gifts in the first year, you need to determine how those gifts will come in. You should get a lead gift of 10-20% of the goal, so your lead gift would be say $15,000. And then develop gift amounts at each levels below that, $10,000, $5,000, $2,500 and so on. You determine how many prospects to ask by the rule of thumb that it takes 4 asks to get a yes.

  4. Create a Prospect List. Prospects must meet 2-3 of the three “C”s: 1)The Capacity to give a gift at or above your major donor level 2) A Concern, or interest in your mission and 3) A Connection to someone at the organization. So don’t just put together a list of anybody and everybody, work with your board, friends, other donors to the organization, staff, volunteers to brainstorm names of people who fit 2 or 3 of these criteria.

  5. Begin to Cultivate. Once you have a list of people who meet 2 or 3 of the Cs, start to get to know them and let them get to know you and your organization’s work. Invite them for a tour, a meet-and-greet, a friend raiser. Start to develop a relationship.

  6. Make a Compelling Ask. When you think they are ready, make an in-person, specific ask in an amount that you think is right for them, for a project that fits with their interests. Make sure that you have a compelling case for investment that you draw upon in order to convince a major donor prospect to invest.

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.

Securing major gifts doesn’t have to be so hard, even for a very small staff. As long as you have a broader network of people willing to be involved, a compelling case for investment, and a systematic process for moving prospects to donors, you can find major donors. Good luck!

Photo Credit: Mykl Roventine

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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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1 Comment to Reader Question: How to Find Major Donors

[…] nonprofit organizations there is a huge untapped revenue potential in individual donors. But, as this month’s Reader Question pointed out, many nonprofit leaders don’t know how to find those […]

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