3 Tips to Find New Major Donors


Finding new major donors can seem like impossible work. But it doesn’t have to be.

Here are three proven tips that will help you find new major donors for your organization:

Tip #1: Your future major donors are your former major donors! Look through your past giving records to identify donors that used to give to your organization, but no longer do. These lapsed donors, for one reason or another, stopped giving. But with a little bit of work, many will give a gift again.

Tip #2: Your future major donors are currently giving to your organization (they just aren’t giving at the major donor level yet). These donors tend to give smaller gifts, and more of them. However, with some direct communication and an ask for more than they typically give, you can convert some of these donors to major donors.

Tip #3: Your future major donors aren’t currently giving you a gift, but they have a heart for the work you do. The best way to meet these potential majors is to host “non-ask” events like open-houses, dinner parties, tours of your facility, etc. The more people you can introduce to your organization, the more potential major donors you’ll meet.

Pro Tip: I want to remind you to do all that you can to keep your current major donors actively giving. It costs you more money and time to find new donors than it does to keep your current donors.

The best way to keep your donors actively giving is to Thank them promptly and emotionally for their recent gift. Then Report back to them on the amazing things they did, because they gave a gift.

Thanking and Reporting are the powerful tools you can leverage to keep your current major donors giving to your organization – and loving it!

Want to know more? Get Jim’s recorded webinar and start learning how you can raise more money and steward important donor relationships during this crucial year-end fundraising season.

To help you with your major donor fundraising this year-end, we’re running a series of Jim Shapiro’s most helpful posts.

We hope it provides you with some tips and tactics that skyrocket your major donor revenue during this important fundraising season.

Prioritize Your Way to Fundraising Success!


If you’re like most development directors or executive directors, you feel a little overwhelmed by your day-to-day responsibilities.

And the day-to-day demands of your job put you at risk of not taking the time to cultivate your major donor relationships the way you’d like.

To help you prioritize your major donor development and fundraising, I strongly suggest creating a donor rating system. Developing a system is relatively easy, and it will take the guesswork out of which donor you should contact and cultivate first.

Here’s how it works.

Using a scale of 1-3 (with 1 being the lowest rating, and 3 being the highest rating), rank each of your majors on these four qualities:

  1. Total giving for the past 12 months – the top third should be rated “3”, the middle third rated “2”, etc.
  2. Affinity for your work or cause – do they love what you do or those you serve?
  3. Relationship strength – is the relationship between the donor and you or someone else at your organization strong or weak?
  4. Financial capacity – regardless of how much they’ve given, how much could they give?

Now, add up the total score for each donor. The best score would be 12, and the worst would be 4.

Then sort your list by the highest-rated donor, down to the lowest-rated donor.

Now you know which donors you should cultivate first! And you know how to spend your time to create a bigger impact for your organization.

Want to know more? Get Jim’s recorded webinar and start learning how you can raise more money and steward important major donor relationships during this most important time of the fundraising year.

To help you with your major donor fundraising this year-end, we’re running a series of Jim Shapiro’s most helpful posts this month.

We hope it provides you with some tips and tactics that skyrocket your major donor revenue during this important fundraising season.

Successful Major Donor Fundraising Takes Time

Major donor.

To help you with your major donor fundraising this year-end, we’re running a series of Jim Shapiro’s most helpful posts from the past.

We hope it provides you with some tips and tactics that skyrocket your major donor revenue during this important fundraising season.

Just about every single month, I receive an emergency phone call from an executive director who is short of their budgeted goal for a project or program.

The organizations that call us often have something in common: a leadership team that hasn’t had a disciplined approach to cultivating relationships with their major donors. So when it was time for those organizations to ask their major donors for financial help, their donors weren’t inclined to respond.

What does that mean for you?

It means that TODAY is the day you need to reach out to your top active donors and donor prospects. Right now, pick up the phone and give them a call. This very minute, pick up a pen and write them a thank you note. Or sometime this week, ask a donor to lunch.

Then make sure you have a disciplined system that keeps you in touch with them as often as they would like (which is usually more often than you think) – especially if you’re good about Thanking and Reporting back to them on the effects of their previous gifts.

But for now, take the time to connect with your top donors. By doing this, you’ll not only build great mission-driven friendships but you’ll also prepare your donors to respond when you come to them with a need.

Want to know more? Get Jim’s recorded year-end webinar about major donors, and start learning how you can raise more money and steward important donor relationships during this crucial time of the fundraising year.

Want to Help a Lot and Learn a Lot?

We're Hiring.

We’re hiring!

We’re currently recruiting for a Client Account Manager who’d like to accelerate their career by working with and learning from several nonprofits at once.

If you’re a good fit for the job, here’s what you’ll do:

  • Work with between 5 and 10 nonprofits around the country
  • Be the primary point of contact with each nonprofit
  • Project manage + help create fundraising content (appeals, e-appeals, newsletters, and social) for some of our clients under your management
  • Learn the approaches and best practices that are helping our clients regularly (and sometimes spectacularly) raise more money!

You can do this job from anywhere. Our team includes people in Washington, DC, Dayton, Portland and Seattle.

If you’re interested, get in touch with Jim Shapiro at jim@betterfundraising.com or see the full job description here on LinkedIn.

Happy thanksgiving!

Happy Thanksgiving.

We’re grateful for you!

The work you do to make the world a better place is a big deal! So Thank You, we love getting to be a small part of your work, and hope you have a wonderful Thanksgiving!

Jim & Steven

Report to your Major Donors This Summer

Major report icon.

If your organization doesn’t have a natural reason to fundraise during the summer, July and August are a great time of year to be Reporting back to your major donors on the impact their previous gifts are having on your beneficiaries.

Take the time this summer to visit with your major donors and Report back to them the amazing things that have happened because they gave you a gift earlier in the year.

If you are unable to meet face-to-face with them, then send them a text that includes a picture of a beneficiary they helped. Or take a short video of a beneficiary, or perhaps the building the donor helped build. Set aside time in your day to call your donors and give them a quick update.

By whatever means possible, Report back to your donors during the summer months. Why? Because now is a great time to close the loop with each of your donors and earn their trust, so that they will be ready to give another gift during the last few months of the year!

How Your Board Can Help When Raising Major Gifts

Active board.

If your board is like most, they don’t like asking donors for gifts. They fear rejection. They fear the negative connotations associated with fundraising. They don’t see it as their role.

If this describes your board, then I am here to share some good news with you. There are other powerful things your board can do to help your major donor fundraising.

What Your Board CAN Do

Here’s just a short list of things we’ve had real, measurable success having board members do:

  1. Write thank you notes. Most board members have the time to write thank you notes. Give each board member the names of the donors that need to be thanked, provide thank you notes and mailing addresses, and tell them what to say. The trick is to make it as easy as possible for them to just do it. Make it as easy as filling out a form!
    • Pro Tip: have them write two notes at the beginning of your next board meeting.
  2. Call donors to thank them for their recent gift. Most board members have a phone and can find the time to call and thank donors. Same process as above: make it as easy as possible for them to do it by providing the donor’s name, last gift amount and phone number, and telling the board member what to say.
    • Pro tip: like writing notes, these calls can be great right at the start of a board meeting.
    • Invite their friends to attend an open house or a “non-ask” event. This is a relatively simple request since there isn’t an expectation for their friends to give a gift. The board member is just asking their friends for time and an opportunity to learn more about the organization they serve.
  1. Invite friends to sit with them at your next gala fundraising event. This is the easiest way for a board member to encourage their friends to give a gift without actually asking them directly for a gift.
  2. Write a check! It is very important that each member of your board make a significant donation to your cause every year. Hopefully they can give at a major donor level, but if not, my advice is to require each board member to give a “significant” gift – and they get to determine what “significant” means for them.

How to Help a Board Member Who is Willing to Ask

If you have a board member who is actually willing to ask donors for major gifts, congratulations! You have a rare species of board member – cherish them and thank them like crazy!

Also – help them succeed! Here are a few things you should equip them with:

  1. A clear fundraising goal and offer. They need to know how much you are trying to raise, why the gift is needed now, and what the donor’s gift will accomplish.
  2. An emotional story (or two) of Need. The best resource you can provide to your board members involved in fundraising are short stories that present a problem for the donor to solve. Tell your board member that if they only share stories about people who have already been helped, they will raise less money!
  3. A deadline. We all work better, faster, and with more urgency when we know we have a deadline. This is true in fundraising too. Your board member will work with urgency if she knows she has a deadline to meet. And the same can be said for the donors she is talking to – the donors will be more likely to respond if they know there is a deadline to the request.
  4. Response forms and reply envelopes. If your board member has fundraising success and can secure major gifts, then it is your job to make it easy for the donor to send in their gift or pledge.

Your board members should be actively involved in supporting your major donor fundraising efforts. But you and I both know that not all of them are willing to ask for gifts.

To encourage board members to help you, be sure to tell them that what you’re going to ask them to do does not always need to be asking their friends or your current major donors for a donation. But be clear that if they aren’t willing to do that, they can still help in valuable ways. And they need to!

So get them actively involved in the Thanking and Reporting portion of our ‘Ask, Thank, Report, Repeat’ fundraising system for major donors!

The Magic of a Matching Gift!

Note from Steven: this month Jim’s been posting helpful blogs about your major donor fundraising. This post is about matching gifts. Speaking from personal experience: follow Jim’s advice and you’ll raise a lot more money!

Everyone likes a good deal – even your donors! Think about any store that sells things you love. When they have a sale, are you more likely to pay attention and make a purchase? You bet. Getting a ‘deal’ makes all of us more likely to take action now.

It’s the same thing with nonprofit fundraising.

In fundraising, matching funds are often the ‘deal’ that makes donors take action. After all, what donor wouldn’t want to double their money & impact when they make a donation?! Matching funds are fundraising magic.

Matching funds are the easiest way to improve fundraising results – and at the same time make your donors feel great about their giving. And your easiest source of matching funds are your major donors.

Let me make the further case for why matching funds matter, and then I will tell you how to secure them from your major donors.

Matching Funds make a BIG Difference

Here are just a few reasons why securing matching funds helps you raise more money:

  • A 51% increase in the average donation amount (and that’s prior to receiving matching gift funds).*
  • Mentioning matching gifts in fundraising appeals results in a 71% increase in the response rate.**
  • 84% of survey participants revealed they’re more likely to donate if a match was offered.‡
  • When a match is offered, one in three donors indicates they gave a larger gift because matching was applied to their donation.‡‡
  • Match-funding is the most likely factor to make donors give more. Match-funding even scored higher than emergency appeals.***

That’s fundraising magic right there! Donors are more engaged, more likely to give, and you’ll raise more money.

Note from Steven: you can use matches several times a year. Donors do not get tired of them. Do you get tired of your favorite things going on sale?

Now go secure those funds!

By now you are probably asking yourself, “How do I get a major donor to give matching funds?” As I mentioned earlier, the easiest source of matching funds are your major donors.

Here’s how I go about securing matching funds from major donors:

  1. You must first know who your major donors are. Earlier this month I wrote a blog post where I outlined the process for identifying, ranking and working with your major donors. If you don’t know exactly who your major donors are, then I’d suggest you first read that blog post.
  2. Review your major donor list to find a donor who either hasn’t given a major gift this year or you think has the capacity to give another large gift.
  3. Contact the donor to ask them if they’d like the chance to multiply their gift and in turn increase the impact of their gift.
  4. If you need to, share a couple of the stats above with the donor. Most major donors know that matching funds increase fundraising results – but they don’t have any idea how much. Be sure to tell them how big an impact their gift of matching funds will have!
  5. When asking for matching funds (or any gift for that matter), give them a deadline to respond to you by. If your donor seems interested but doesn’t commit to giving you a matching gift, then give them a deadline that’s reasonably soon.

Follow those steps. You won’t have success every time – but you’ll have more success than you expect!

Having matching funds really is fundraising magic. It is the easiest way to increase your fundraising results, and it’s a great way to engage your major donors in your fundraising efforts.

And a more engaged major donor is a great thing for your organization!

*Source: Tech Soup: Which Fundraising Strategies Work?
**Source: Tech Soup: Which Fundraising Strategies Work?
‡Source: The Big-Give Research Initiative
‡‡Source: The Big-Give Research Initiative
***Source: The Big-Give Research Initiative

The role of major donors in promoting and funding your special events

Your special fundraising event is not too far way. You’re scrambling to put all the pieces together. You are stressed out and have no idea how you are going to accomplish all you need to do before the big day.

Have you ever felt this way? Or do you feel this way right now?!

Over the years I have personally planned special events both large and small. Most recently, I’ve consulted and advised our clients how to make the most of their fundraising events. I know how stressful it can be to plan these events. I have also learned something powerful…

Your Major Donors are So Important to Event Success

Just like most fundraising endeavors, your fundraising event will rest on the shoulders of a few people – your major donors.

If you want your event to be as successful as possible, here are a few suggestions to help your major donors help you and your cause:

  1. Ask your major donors to underwrite or sponsor your event. After all, the goal of your event is to raise money. So why not ask your major donors BEFORE your event to help underwrite the cost? Or if they own a business, you can ask them to make a donation in exchange for business promotion (that’s what event sponsorship is).
  2. Ask your major donors to invite 10 of their closest friends to come to the event. Most likely your major donors have friends that could be major donors to your cause. Special events are a great way to introduce their friends to your mission. And if your fundraising event does a great job motivating people in the room to make a donation, you have a high likelihood that these “new friends” will become donors.
    • NOTE: if a friend or invitee of a current major donor makes a gift, treat that person like a major donor even if their gift doesn’t merit that status. Think of the gift they’ve given you as a ‘test gift’ to see if they really like your organization and like the way you treat donors. Treat them like a Major and you’ve massively increased the chance that they’ll become a Major!
  3. Ask your major donors to make a gift at the event. Do not leave their giving up to chance at the event! Before the event, ask them to make a gift at the event. This gives you the opportunity to ask for what you need, and to answer any questions your donors might have regarding the fundraising offer or how the funds will be used.
  4. Ask your major donors to give a matching gift PRIOR to the event. There is nothing better than walking into the room the day of your event with matching funds available. Donors love knowing their gift will be matched – and their impact increased. Matching funds will increase the net fundraising results of your event.

Not every tip is right for every donor. Your job is to know each of your major donors, then to apply the right strategy for each!

Give Each Major Donor a Special Role at Your Next Event

Your current major donors want to help. After all, they are already invested in your work, and they want to see you succeed.

So give each major donor a specific role at your next event. Use at least one of the strategies above to give each major donor a special role to play. Then if you do, several fantastic things will happen:

  • You’ll raise more money.
  • You’ll know that the donors who make-or-break your event are going in primed and ready to give.
  • Your majors will appreciate the extra communication and the clarity around their role
  • You will be able to Thank them for more than just their gift.
  • You’ll have involved them in ways other than just giving – which increases their likelihood of giving again.

And here’s perhaps the most motivating outcome of all: you’ll be more at peace on the day of the event – and at the event – knowing that it’s going to go great!