How to Acquire Major Donors for Your Non-Profit Organization

Major donors are necessary for non-profits.
Major donors are necessary for non-profits. (Image: money image by Bradlee Mauer from

Each charity has its own definition of a major donor. Some consider a $100-a-year donor in that category, while some start at $1,000 a year or more. Regardless, all charities can use a boost in the number of their major donors.

Here’s one easy method to bring these types of givers in through the doors.

Targeting and Execution

Make arrangements with a major donor to host an informal dinner at his home with at least four other couples who:

? Are known to have at least a small interest in the organization's work.

? Can afford to become major donors.

Generally, the chairman of the board and the executive officer, or comparable staff members, will attend the dinner in the name of the charity.

The host issues the invitation to the couples with a clear understanding that they will be meeting with the leaders of the charity at the dinner, but that there will be no asking for donations at that time. It is to be a purely informational meeting.

Before the dinner, the charity's development director researches the couples, and briefs those from the charity who are going to attend. This is important so the non-profit's representatives know how best to steer the conversations in positive directions.

During the dinner, ensure that the conservation is light and not touching on the charity. This is a time to get to know one another a little better.

After dinner, the host shares with the guests the passions that brought her to support the charity. She explains how she became interested, and her satisfaction in knowing that she is helping the cause.

The representatives from the charity then briefly speak (no more than five minutes each) about :

? The history of the charity.

? The philosophy behind what it does.

? The people that they are reaching out to.

? Specific programs that are working.

? Future plans.

A PowerPoint presentation can be used, but it needs to really sparkle and crack with energy. A dull, soggy presentation will gain little but disappointment. And even the best PP presentation cannot top a speaker who is passionate about helping others and communicates that passion.

After the Dinner

Several days later, call and set an appointment. When the guests come to the charity the focus must be on two issues:

? The good work the charity is doing for the community.

? The part of the charity’s work that most moves the guests.

If the guests have a potential issue that touches them, the discussion then moves to how they might be able to work with the charity to further that work, or to make it better.

Only after the specific interest and a desire to help are expressed does the topic of funding come up. The need must be expressed in a forthright manner, with specific dollar amounts for continuing, expanding, or improving that area. It’s better to ask high and have the donor give a smaller amount than to ask low and have the donor give low, when he actually could have given much more.

If potential donors make a contribution at that point, then there is a standard follow-through with thank-you letters and other material. If they choose not to make a donation at that time, they go into the “prospect” file to be contacted later when appropriate.

If you have three major donors who are willing to host a dinner at least once per quarter, that will give you access to almost 50 potential major donors in a year. If only 25 percent become donors, that is a far superior percentage to that from any other form of acquisition of donors, and the odds are they will be faithful year-in, year-out supporters.

Tips & Warnings

  • A multi-tactical approach to gaining major donors is usually the best method. Here are some other quick tips to help find those donors.
  • Do not neglect your current donors. Those who give multiple, smaller gifts through the year have established their passion for the work and are ripe for calling upon for a larger gift. Major donors who \"bubble up\" from your existing base are almost always the most loyal you've have.
  • Doing research on who is giving to which projects in the community gives targets to call upon.
  • Offering \"planned giving\" is a must when working with major donors. There are many outside vendors who will be happy to work with even the smallest organization to help it develop an effective program.
  • Ensure that the board of directors understands its role in donor acquisition. If the board's members are not willing to stand behind the organization's fund-raising program and use their own influence in their circles, that can effectively shut the door on any proposed plans.
  • Be absolutely sure the organization can present a compelling case for support. A lackluster or poorly thought-out case statement can do much more harm than good when presented to important decision-makers in the community. If word gets around that the organization is not worthy or ready for support, it might take years to overcome that image.

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