A successful major giving program can change the way your nonprofit is able to serve its mission. Just one major gift has the potential to be a complete game changer for your organization.

We all get this. That’s why it’s so important to take the time and make the effort to actively strategize about the best ways to boost your major giving program.

Is your major giving program in need of a boost? Look into prospect research! Even if you already use screening to an extent, there are sure to be areas you haven’t addressed. That’s what we’ll be talking about here.

Specifically, we’ll cover these six pieces of advice:

  1. Put the data in the hands of the experts
  2. Leverage the information to determine an RFM score
  3. Uncover valuable philanthropic markers
  4. Discover relevant wealth indicators
  5. Make an educated prediction of donor giving capacity
  6. Round out your profiles with accurate personal information

Let’s explore how your nonprofit can up its major giving game with an assist from prospect research.

#1: Put the Data in the Hands of the Experts

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The data from a prospect screening is only as good as what you do with it. So, once you’ve culled through your prospect and donor pools, it’s time to hand over the information to your major gift officer.

Even if your organization is not large enough to have a designated officer, it’s important that you assign a team member to lead the charge when it comes to taking your screening results and applying them to your major gift acquisition and retention strategies.

Prospect research can be a help in every stage of a major gift donor’s relationship with your organization.

Identification: Of course, a screening will help your major gift officers find your prospects.

Cultivation: The more your officer knows about your prospects, the more customized and effective the interactions can be leading up to the ask.

Solicitation: When the time finally comes to make your appeal, your officers will be happy to have the support of all the valuable donor information collected during research. 

Stewardship: And finally, you’ll want a full picture of your donors’ interests and needs if you plan to properly engage them after they donate, and hopefully secure future gifts from them.

Keep in mind, as DonorSearch’s guide on this very matter explains:

Major gifts are not universal. The needs and capacity of the specific organization seeking the gifts will control what qualifies as major. …Consider the flexibility of the definition as you define the role of a major gifts officer at your organization.

While the role may vary, one fact remains true: You can’t get very far without supplementing your officer’s efforts with prospect research.

Bonus tip: When looking to hire your major gift officer, follow this wise advice, “Know your team spirit, use it to match players, and then let them execute.”

#2: Leverage the Information to Determine an RFM Score

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For those who don’t know, RFM stands for:

  • Recency of giving: The last time a donor made a contribution
  • Frequency of giving: The rate at which a donor makes contributions
  • Monetary contribution: The amount of money a donor has contributed

RFM scores are a great way to gauge a donor’s loyalty to your organization. They also enable you to rank prospects that might be good candidates for an upgrade to your major giving program.An internal screening of your donor pool will give you the information you need to perform an RFM analysis.

When it comes to major giving, past giving is a strong predictor, so the RFM score can be incredibly valuable.

For instance:

  • A donor who has made a gift between $10,000 and $25,000 to a nonprofit organization is 25 times more likely to make a philanthropic contribution than a standard prospect.
  • A donor who has made a gift between $5,000 and $10,000 to a nonprofit organization is five times more likely to make a philanthropic contribution than a standard prospect.

You can’t ignore statistics like that!

For example, from your screening you might learn one of your annual fund donors has given $8,000 to a political campaign. That drastically increases the likelihood he or she will donate more to your organization.

You never know what major gift prospects are hiding in plain sight! It’s absolutely imperative that you use your screening to do an internal investigation of your existing donors.

#3: Uncover Valuable Philanthropic Markers

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Now we get to the nitty-gritty.

You can’t talk about prospect research and major giving without mentioning the value in studying a donor’s philanthropic markers. The ideal major giving candidate has the perfect blend of philanthropic drive and financial capacity. For this section, we’re going to focus on the former part of that statement (stay tuned for the latter).

Generally speaking, there are two really straightforward incentives for giving:

  1. The feeling donors get when they know they’ve put their money to good use.
  2. The tax benefit that comes with making a charitable donation.

With major gifts, both incentives are certainly a factor, but you’ll need to seek prospects with an incredibly high interest in philanthropy if you’re going to be able to convince them to make such a substantial donation to your cause.

Use prospect research to find those with that incredibly high interest in philanthropy.

You can assess a prospect’s affinity for giving by analyzing the following data from a screening:

  • Past giving to your organization
  • Past giving to other organizations
  • Other involvement with your organization
  • Other involvement with other organization.
  • Board membership
  • And, a few more

This information will complete the philanthropic picture you have of your major gift prospects. The money to give a gift is critical, but if the prospect isn’t interested in giving, their wealth won’t make much difference.

#4: Discover Relevant Wealth Indicators

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After you’ve qualified a prospect on the philanthropic front, wealth needs to be part of the equation. Luckily, prospect research can be just as helpful when it comes to wealth indicators.

Your screening can reveal such valuable data as:

  • Real estate ownership
  • Stock ownership
  • Political giving
  • Boat ownership
  • Plane ownership
  • And, so on

While wealth indicators, on the whole, are going to prove pivotal, it’s important to prioritize wealth indicators that speak to larger trends. In a few cases, like with real estate ownership and political giving, the wealth indicators double as philanthropic markers.

Let me explain with a statistic: If a prospect has given $2,500 or more to a political campaign, that donor is 14 times as likely to give to a nonprofit as an average person is.

As you can see, political giving not only speaks to how much a donor is capable of giving, but the likelihood of him/her following through with a donation to your organization. It’s a two-for-the-price-of-one indicator!

The more indicators like those your screening focuses on, the more predictive your results will be.

#5: Make an Educated Prediction of Donor Giving Capacity

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When the time comes to make your actual ask, your major gift officers will be happy to have all the details you acquired in Tips 2, 3, and 4. Because, as far as major gift solicitation is concerned, you’re going to want to be as close to the mark as possible when you request a certain gift size.

As Adam Weinger of Double the Donation advises, “Tailor your donation appeal depending on your relationship with a particular donor.”

That tailoring is of the utmost importance when you’re asking for a major gift. Good thing you have prospect research to help you estimate donor giving capacity!

There are a few popular formulas to generate a predicted giving capacity, all of which rely on some level of information you can ascertain during a prospect screening.

Popular giving capacity formulas include:

  • 5X the sum of four annual gifts to your nonprofit or similar organizations is equal to a donor’s giving capacity over five years.
  • 5 percent of a donor’s visible assets is equal to the donor’s giving capacity over five years.

Although the formulas are helpful, it’s important to remember this isn’t an exact science. Between researching your prospects and spending considerable time with them during cultivation, it’s up to your major gift officers to make the final judgment regarding ideal ask amount.

Use giving capacity as an aid to the holistic process of developing a solicitation plan.

#6: Round Out Your Profiles with Accurate Personal Information

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This final tip is sure to help in all areas of fundraising, but that doesn’t make it any less critical to the success of your major giving program. Your efforts will go nowhere if you don’t have accurate and up-to-date personal information. With major giving in particular, every interaction is highly valuable. Just as you can leave a positive mark, you can leave a negative one, too. Don’t sour a potentially fruitful relationship by starting off on the wrong foot.

Perform a screening to ensure all contact details you have on your major gift prospects and donors are accurate and up-to-date.

Screenings will fill in such information as a prospect’s:

  • Full name
  • Spousal details
  • Date of birth
  • Address
  • Email Address
  • Telephone number

That might all seem like basic data, but it can be very important. For instance, imagine you meet a major gift prospect at one of your fundraising events and only get her name. You can perform a screening and fill in the rest of her contact information. Then, when it’s time to send out thank yous to the event attendees, you can send one to her and start the cultivation process out strong with a proper acknowledgement.

Well, there you have it! Six ways to incorporate prospect research into your major giving program.

As you can probably tell, given the level of knowledge required to properly identify, cultivate, solicit, and steward a major gift donor, it makes perfect sense to bring prospect research into the mix. For more on the topic of major giving, check out this fun and informative article from Abila’s own Anna Toon.

What about your organization? How is prospect research involved in your major giving program? We’d love to hear from you!

About the Author

Ryan Woroniecki is the Vice President of Strategic Partnerships at Abila Product Partner, DonorSearch, a prospect research, screening, and analytics company that focuses on proven philanthropy. He has worked with hundreds of nonprofits and is a member of APRA-MD. When he isn’t working, you can find him on the kickball field – he’s an avid player!