So you’ve embarked on a major gifts campaign. But how do you identify your prospects? And once you’ve got your list, then what? Charlotte Grimshaw provides some answers.

So you’ve embarked on a major gifts campaign. But how do you identify your prospects? And once you’ve got your list, then what? Charlotte Grimshaw provides some answers.

Until very recently we’ve seen incredible growth in personal wealth in Australia, and yet – with some notable exceptions – we have been slow as fundraisers to develop the expertise to tap into it. Major gift fundraising seems to be eternally ‘the next big thing’. Why is this?

My many conversations with fundraisers and board members suggest a few answers.

Obstacles to Major Gift Fundraising

One hurdle to be cleared is the shortage of expertise in major gift fundraising in Australia. Nonprofits are gradually growing a pool of good fundraisers with experience in this area, as well as recruiting some people from the commercial sector with the right skills. But there is a growing demand and a shortage of people to meet it.

The second main issue seems to be not knowing where to start. Incredibly, some board members of established charities are still prone to say things like “Why don’t we just ask James Packer for the money?” That’s fine if he is already connected to your charity, but if he’s not then the question ignores every established principle about where to start looking for your potential major donors.

Start Where You Are

Start to look for your potential major donors in your existing lists and networks. There are internal and external ways of doing this. Internal methods can include:

Mining your existing donors, alumni or ticket buyers etc to look at gift history for frequent or larger gifts, and to look for other indications of affinity with the organisation. Talking to the people close to the organisation – board members, volunteers, staff – to find out what they know about your possible prospects, and who else might have an interest in your cause. If you don’t have much donor history, or have a small database, or unsophisticated software, try exporting the list into excel, sorting it by suburb, and looking for the known wealthy suburbs. Look at people’s titles and their suffixes. Look for house names, which can indicate a larger property.

External methods might include:

External screening of your lists to look for prominent and wealthy people who have not self-identified by giving a larger gift. Online research to identify the major donors to other organisations with a similar mission to yours.

This approach is based on the concept of ‘Linkage, Interest, Ability’ (LIA), in which we identify a pool of potential higher value donors, on the basis of known connections with the organisation (Linkage), level of interest in the organisation (Interest), and ability to give (Ability). Once they have been identified, we need to devise some metrics to help us prioritise them.

Prospect List Complete – What Now?

If you have a reasonable sized database and some good donor history you might end up with a list of several hundred prospects. So how do you prioritise them and decide what to do next?

This is where the LIA metrics come in. To put it in more human terms, we’re looking at evaluating wealth and warmth – ‘wealth’ defining the possible ability to give, and ‘warmth’ being the level of connectedness to and interest in your organisation.

Table 1 shows a method for evaluating your potential major donor prospects to decide which ones you should make a priority. Each donor is assigned a value on a numerical value in each of a number of categories. The sum of the scores will help to decide where that prospect sits on the ‘wealth/warmth’ potential, and therefore the order in which you might prioritise approaches.

Table 1 – Prospect Evaluation

Motive/affinity Strong, connected motive 5
Good,but not realised 4
Reasonable logical motive 3
Weak 2
No identifable motive 1
Interest specific project Board level/involved 5
Active interest/keen 4
Moderate interest 3
Minimal interest 2
No record of interest 1
Gift Size >$1m 5
$500k-$1m 4
$100k-$500k 3
$50k-$100k 2
<$50k 1
Philanthropic propensity Has given $1m+ 5
Has given $500k-$1m 4
Has given $100k-$500k 3
Has given $50k-$100k 2
No known gifts 1
Accessibility Direct contact with us 5
One step away 4
2 steps away 3
Difficult or cold contact 2
No known contact 1

Unless you are running a one-off capital campaign and planning never to go back to your donors in future (perish the thought!), these tools should be part of a continual process of identifying, evaluating and cultivating your relationships with potential major donors.

Some of the main donor software programs these days have good modules for managing this movement of prospects, setting activities and goals and reporting results. But whatever you do, don’t let not having the right software, or not having done enough research, get in the way of the most important thing – getting out to talk, and listen, to your donors.