How to Identify Probable Major Givers

New fundraisers looking for donor upgrades are all too likely to fall into a common trap: believing that donor capacity is the best predictor of a donor’s likeliness to upgrade. As my colleague Austin Detwiler points out, that simply isn’t true. Greater capacity is necessary to increase giving level, but it’s not sufficient. Wealth alone doesn’t make someone a good donor prospect. 

So how do you identify good donor prospects? Once you’ve used wealth screening to determine who has additional capacity, how do you decide on whom to focus your efforts?

The key is to move beyond wealth to assessing donor propensity, which is far trickier than identifying capacity. Let’s look at how to go about it.


Donations are King, but Interactions are a Close Second

There’s no substitute for donations—as we always say, your next major donor is already giving to you in smaller amounts. Beyond monetary signals, the single greatest indicator of propensity to upgrade is how much a donor interacts with your organization.

Wealthy people with high propensity aren’t just involved in your organization through their checkbooks. They open your emails, update their contact information, volunteer, refer people to your programs, and so on. 


Steps for Effective Donor Evaluation

Identifying best donor prospects is an inexact science, but the steps are straightforward:

  1. 1. Identify who is in your database;
  2. 2. Overlay data like wealth screening to determine donors whose capacity outstrips current giving;
  3. 3. Examine a donor’s activity; and
  4. 4. Using your data on activity, prioritize donors with long-time allegiance and frequent involvement.


Assessing Prospective Donors' Propensity for Major Giving

A major method for sniffing out major prospects may seem counterintuitive at first: it’s to assess their relationships with the “competition.”

Look for people who are highly involved with organizations closely aligned in mission and outlook with your own. The average major donor gives to five or six nonprofits annually. A donor who gives to a similar organization will likely have a high propensity to give to yours. 


Lastly, it’s important to remember that because propensity rating is always imprecise, the easiest way to get a true measure of a donor’s inclination to upgrade is to ask them.

Whether it’s through individual conversations or emailed surveys—when in doubt, always ask!


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