Landing Large Donors: Research, Relationship and Response

Janna Finch is a guest contributor for Nonprofit Hub and is the Managing Editor at Software Advice, where she manages all content related to the nonprofit software market and reports on retail and construction technologies, topics and trends.

Studies show that major donors—those that give $1 million or more—are responsible for up to 75 percent of most nonprofits’ revenue.

I recently sat down with Andrew Cope of the Silicon Valley Community Foundation, which obtained a $500 million donation from Mark Zuckerberg in 2012. Here are a few key takeaways from that interview:

What are the best tactics for locating major donors?

  • IRS 990s allow you to identify who has given how much to what organization. Using them is an effective and free way to research potential donors.

  • Find who is already serving on the boards of nonprofits similar to yours. Then you can find connections and determine who is already interested in donating to an organization such as yours.

  • Identify businesses and executives with expertise related to your nonprofit’s mission and who is committed to Corporate Social Responsibility (CSR).

Cope said that asking for too little is as poor a tactic as asking for too much. Why is this?

  • Asking for an amount that is lower than what the donor is used to giving indicates you haven’t fully researched your prospective donor. Also, if the prospect usually gives $100K and you only ask for $1K, then you’ve missed out on significant funds.

What’s the best way to approach a major donor that you don’t personally know?

  • Begin by reaching out to your network. Ask if anyone knows the prospective donor and can arrange an introduction for you.

  • Email your prospect to extend an invitation to volunteer with your nonprofit so they can see the impact of your organization. Cope says a donor’s level of involvement in an organization is the primary motivator for how much they’re willing to donate, so providing them opportunities to participate is important to nurture that relationship.

What are the best volunteer options to give prospects?

  • Start small—don’t immediately ask them to sit on your board.

  • Be sure you’ve done adequate research on what your prospective donor’s interests are so you can offer a relevant activity.

  • Once the prospective donor has shown adequate interest in your organization, you can ask them if they would like to join your board of directors or serve on a committee.

Other takeaways from talking with Cope?

  • It’s essential to explain the purpose of the donation—show them how their donation will be used and who will be helped by their generosity.

  • Passionately communicate your confidence in the organization’s mission and be prepared to answer any questions about your goals and strategies.

  • Trust your gut to assess how open the prospect is to donating and don’t be pushy in your request.

  • Focus on building a relationship with the prospective donor and make sure it’s clear that it will continue regardless of whether they give or not; never forget to communicate that you’re thankful for their time and consideration.

What’s worked for your NPO in landing large donors?

Landing Large Donors: Research, Relationship and Response

January 10, 2014

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