Major Donor Development Program

Question: The nonprofit I’m involved with gets most of its funding from grants, but you always hear about nonprofits needing to diversify their funding sources in order to become more sustainable.  In particular, it seems fundraising experts recommend starting a major donor program.  We would like to do this, but where do we start?

Answer:  Well, whatever experts you’ve been taking advice from are absolutely right! It’s important to get donations from a bunch of different sources, especially because grant money dries up all the time: a foundation might change their strategic direction in a single grant cycle and a source of income you’ve been depending on for years can dry up just like that!

Of course this is true for any funding source, but healthy major donor programs spread the financial load over many different people—people who believe in your cause and want to invest in it because they want to be a part of the solution to an issue close to their hearts.  

So, how do you convince people to start donating the big bucks to your organization? Well, there are many, many ways of doing this (you can find browse the various strategies on our website here:, but Georgia River Network just recently tried a new strategy that worked well , both because it encouraged a donor to give more than they might have normally and because it successfully  recruited lots of brand new donors.

Last February, an anonymous couple pledged $10,000 if we could raise an additional $10,000 in cash from new major donors ($1,000+) before the end of our fiscal year (September 30). We shared this exciting opportunity with phone calls and letters to people we already knew who we thought might be able or willing to give $1,000 or more.  We also just sent it out into the ether through print and electronic newsletters, social media, and a prominent place on our main web page.

The challenge match was extremely successful and raised the sights of some of our members who are most committed to protecting and restoring Georgia Rivers. In several cases, the new major donors had not given above $100. To date we’ve surpassed our goal of ten new major donors and are looking forward a similar challenge next year.  

So, this is just one way of recruiting a bunch of new major donors at once: one generous person can be really motivating to other potential donors.  Try it yourself! It might just work!