Five Things You Need to Learn About Your Major Gifts Prospects

Preparation is a chief component of success in all aspects of life, and fundraising is no exception. Soliciting a donation without any background information on your contributor is tough. Really tough.

Now raise the stakes and make that contributor a major gift prospect. Yikes!

The trick to preparing for soliciting a major gift prospect is not only studying up, but studying smart.

It is important to get all the pertinent information without getting bogged down in the superfluous details.

To understand where you should focus your attention, check out these five essential specifics to know about your major gift prospects:

  • Previous Donations to Nonprofits
  • Nonprofit Involvement
  • Real Estate Ownership
  • Business Affiliations
  • Political Giving

Let’s walk through those five categories in more detail now.  

1. Previous Donations to Nonprofits

This category can actually be broken down into two separate subcategories:

  • Prior donations to your nonprofit.
  • Prior donations to other nonprofits.

To Your Nonprofit

Previous donations to your nonprofit are the main indicator of future contributions.  Investigating your loyal annual fund donors could reveal plenty of major gift prospects.

You’ll need to have a clean and up-to-date donor database in order to identify potential major donors.

Prospect research, whether by a prospect screening company or an in-house team, can take your list of repeat donors and determine who on the list has the financial capacity to give a major gift.

With that knowledge, your development department will be well equipped to start transitioning annual fund supporters to high level donors.

One thing to keep in mind is that even if a donor is only contributing small gifts to your organization, they might be giving major gifts to others.

Prospect screening can reveal that information and show your team who has the ability to up their giving.

To Other Nonprofits

Speaking of giving to other nonprofits, charitable contributions elsewhere are markers of major gift prospects for your organization.

There’s a certain level of cross-over amongst nonprofits. Each nonprofit will share commonalities with others, be it mission, location, or size. Use those similarities to your benefit.  For every related nonprofit, there’s a donor list with major gift prospects waiting to be acquired by your development staff.

2. Nonprofit Involvement

Major gift prospects are typically people who have demonstrated a vested interest in charitable work. There’s no better evidence of that than documented involvement in your or other nonprofits.

The prospect could serve on a board for a social service nonprofit or chair an annual gala for a local museum.

They say actions speak louder than words, and sometimes actions speak louder than wealth markers too.

A donor with a lot of money is not going to be as likely to give as a donor with less money but an intimate connection to the service world.  

3. Real Estate Ownership

Although philanthropic dedication should be a driving consideration when scouting for major gift prospects, those who don’t have the funds to contribute a major gift obviously can’t donate one.

Wealth markers may not be the most important indicators, but they are significant.

Real estate ownership is a clear indicator of wealth.  Interestingly though, there’s a notable correlation between property ownership and philanthropy as well.  

Those that own $2+ million in real estate are 17 times more likely to give.  And, not to be out-done, those that own $1-2 million in real estate are 4 times more likely to give.

With knowledge of real estate ownership, a fundraiser gets the best of both worlds: a wealth marker and philanthropic indicator!

4. Business Affiliations

Checking business affiliations is all about taking the donors you know and learning about who they know.

Current donors can give your staff much-needed introductions to various movers and shakers in the fundraising community.

Pay special attention to donors when planning fundraising events, as they’re likely to have valuable business connections that your nonprofit can leverage for sponsorships and donations.

Beyond who your donors are connected to in the business world, who they work for is a crucial detail to know.


Many companies have matching gift programs.

In those cases, companies will match whatever an employee donates to a charity, doubling the donation.

That’s too good of a deal to miss out on!

5. Political Giving

This final point isn’t as obvious as some of the others at first glance, but it makes a lot of sense when you really think about it.

People donate to political campaigns because they are truly passionate about that candidate or party.  They saw something or someone they wanted to give to, made the decision, and donated.

Political givers are donors of action.

You can capitalize on this willingness to give by demonstrating the similarities between your fundraising campaigns and the political campaigns that the donor in question supports.

To do so, have a conversation with your donor in which you show how a donation to your fundraising campaign can support your donor’s political ideals.

Bonus: If you need help starting a fundraising campaign, you can check out this DonorSearch resource!

There are a few more major gift indicators than these five, but this list should give you plenty to work from when researching.

Now that you know what to look for, you can start building relationships with donors who can leave a truly major impact.

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