Major Donor Fundraising For Small Nonprofits

Two women consulting.

We recently surveyed a group of small- to medium-sized nonprofits.  We analyzed their fundraising programs and arrived at a startling conclusion:

7 out of 10 of the smaller nonprofits did not have a system to manage their most valuable donors. 

The donors who were driving most of their revenue were being treated just like everyone else.

This means these organizations were not maximizing the opportunity they had with those donors.  And organizationally their behavior was risky because there was so much revenue at stake.

Believe me, I get how this happens.  When you’re a small nonprofit or a 1-person fundraising/development shop, it’s impossible to get to everything.

So Jim and I decided to do something about it.  Yesterday we launched Major Gifts Engine, a 6-month program to help small organizations install a major donor management system, based on best-practices but customized for the organization. 

If you’re interested, you can read more about it here.  And it includes a link to get in touch.

But not every organization will be able to afford it because it costs real money to have an experienced major donor fundraiser help a nonprofit set up a repeatable major donor fundraising program, determine portfolio sizes, choose which donors go in the portfolios, and create giving goals for each donor. 

So if your organization needs this, but can’t join, I want to encourage you to intentionally invest time and whatever resources you have into your major donor fundraising.  (Investing in your organization’s major donor fundraising is one of the highest ROI activities a small organization can invest in.)

Here’s a simple exercise you can do in about 90-minutes’ time:

  • Identify your top 10 donors by cumulative giving over the last three years.
  • Hand-write and mail each donor a card that thanks them for their extraordinary generosity.
  • Come up with 5 additional reasons to contact each donor between February and October.  This could be things like forwarding them an exciting email with a note before the email goes to the rest of your donors, texting them a photo and short success story, hand-writing a note on their copy of your newsletter, you get it.
  • For those donors, write down (that’s important!) the amount you’d like them to give for this year.  As the year goes along, you’ll find yourself noticing things they could be funding, and your ask(s) to them will be stronger because of it.

You know that much of this blog is about copywriting and fundraising offers and all the things I love to talk about.  I started out as a copywriter so I tend to believe that a good idea and great copy will change the world.

And that’s true.  But it’s pretty obvious that a good idea and great copy don’t usually out-raise a major donor you have a good relationship with.  And they almost never out-raise a group of major donors that you’ve invested in, kept for years, and lifted to higher and higher levels of giving.

So as you start this year, invest in your major donor fundraising.  Whether that’s investing in a system like ours or an activity like the one above, you’ll raise more money and have a greater impact.

How to Get Matching Funds from a Major Donor


I wrote earlier this week that the signs are pointing to donations from individual donors being down this year. 

If that holds true for the rest of the year, it’s important to do everything you can to make your fall fundraising attractive.

And the slam-dunk way to do that is to have matching funds available at year-end – and all of your fall fundraising if possible.

If you’re interested, you should read How to Get Matching Funds from a Major Donor.

I think the main reason this approach works so well – and that this blog post is our second-most-popular post of all time – is the question that we recommend asking the major donor. 

Most organizations ask the major to solve the organization’s problem: “Will you give us matching funds so that we can use them in our fundraising?”  Instead, you’ll see how to get your major donor wanting to give you matching funds because it helps them get what they want.

Go read the post, and then go get some matching funds for this fall!

The Difference Between “Understanding” and “Feeling”


A major donor can understand that their gift was appreciated.  That’s nice.  And pretty easy to make that happen.

Yet it’s also possible for a major donor to really feel that their gift was appreciated.

There’s a big difference. 

The blog post How to Thank a Major Donor So She’ll WANT to Give Again gives you a simple road map to making your major donors feel your organization’s appreciation.

I share that post today because the signs are pointing to donations from individual donors being down this year. 

If that holds true for the rest of the year, it’s more important than ever for your organization to make sure your major donors feel your gratitude.

Here’s what often happens in down years.  Major donors deploy a two-part strategy:

  • They reduce the number of organizations they support, and
  • They reduce the amount they give to each organization. 

But major donors usually have a couple of organizations – close to their hearts, where they feel their giving really matters – that they do not cut or reduce.

That’s the group you want to be in. 

But you must earn your way into that group.

So go read the post, then go make sure your majors feel your gratitude!

Your Major Donors Are More Important Than You Think They Are

Your Major Donors Are More Important Than You Think They Are

We’re doing a series of short posts called Mastermind Lessons.

The Fundraising Mastermind is transformational consulting for nonprofits that we do with Chris Davenport of Movie Mondays and The Nonprofit Storytelling Conference.

Today’s post is the second top-level lesson we’ve found that every organization in the Mastermind needs to learn…

Your Major Donors are Remarkably Important and You aren’t Spending Enough Time or Money on Them

An organization usually knows that a small percentage of donors (your “major donors”) provide a significant percentage of your total revenue.

But an organization is usually shocked when they discover how small that number of donors is, and how large the percentage of income is.

In our experience, it’s usually around 85% of an organization’s revenue from individuals that comes from 10% of their donors.

And because the organization hasn’t sat with the numbers and really faced what they mean, the organization does not spend enough time and money on their major donors.

Here’s the example I use that helps organizations see:

Say you have a business that has 100 customers. And 10 of those customers are responsible for 90% of your revenue. You would give those customers the “white glove” treatment. They would be greeted by name at the door. They would have a special, shorter line to wait in. They would get a phone call the next day to see if their purchase worked out.

That’s common sense. But too many nonprofits don’t apply it to fundraising.

Your major donors should get the “white glove” treatment:

  • Hand-written thank you cards
  • Appeal letters written specifically to them, about what they care about
  • Newsletters sent in large envelopes, with a hand-signed cover letter
  • A call from the Executive Director after every gift

There are lots of possible treatments. You can and should be doing them.

That said…

To Keep Your Major Donors, and to Lift Them to Higher Giving, You Need a SYSTEM

Special treatment is great. Start doing it now.

But what you really need is a major donor fundraising system.

In a nutshell, here’s what your system should do:

  1. Identify your major donors
  2. Rank them so you know who to focus on first
  3. Build relationships with them (with the ones who are open to this)
  4. Make a revenue goal for each major donor
  5. Make an annual plan to lead each major donor to reach the goa

It’s the organizations that have major donor systems in place, and then are disciplined about running the system, that see major revenue growth. They keep more of their major donors, and lift their major donors to higher and higher levels of giving.

Does Your Organization Need This?

The good thing about this is that almost every organization I’ve spoken with recently says they know they need to spend more time and money on their major donors.

The tough thing is that very few of them know what to do next.

My suggestion: take a class like this one from Jim Shapiro, the co-founder of Better Fundraising. (And if you can’t make those dates, apply anyway because there will be another class later this spring.) And follow the Veritus Group blog.

It will take time to get great at major donor fundraising. But it’s worth your time and investment!