FAQ: Building and Maintaining Your Major Donor List

Question: I'm on the board of a watershed group that wants to start soliciting major donations, but we don't even know where to start.  Any suggestions about how we begin to look for prospects and build relationships with them?

Answer: It is often said in fundraising circles that your best prospect is the last person who made a gift to your organization. With that being said, to find good major gift prospects, start by looking at four groups:

•    your board
•    your top donors
•    those who make consistent annual gifts
•    those who make multiple gifts within a year

Out of those groups, create a list with a manageable number of prospects. You can always add to it as you go along. Start your major giving program by sending each of them a short handwritten note thanking them again for their support (you can never thank them enough!).  Begin sending this group a short quarterly report that lists your most impressive activities from that quarter and let them know that their support helped make those accomplishments possible. This demonstrates that their support makes a difference for your organization and has an impact on what they care about.

For example Georgia River Network's last quarterly report included:
•    a story about Paddle Georgia 2013 with links to explore the media coverage, the virtual tour, and daily blogs and photos
•    an update on the Water Trails Website
•    information on the Hidden Gem paddle trips
•    a list of legislative and regulatory issues that GRN is following
•    a thank you for the donor’s support

Monitor your gifts, and as members make a gift, immediately send a thank you note. Build the relationship before you ask for an increase in giving or for significant support.

One of the best ways to jump start a major donor program is to find someone who is willing to put up a matching gift that will match new major donors. GRN recently had three matches that included:

•    Many of GRN’s previous $1000 donors agreed to donate $1000 again this year, if their donation is matched by a new $1000 donation. Ask your current major donors if they will help you bring in more major donors.
•    Another anonymous donor put forward a $5,000 challenge to match gifts of $500 or more from donors who have not made a one-time $500 gift to GRN before.
•    Lastly, a family foundation in Athens provided a grant that matched anyone who had made a $1,000 gift in the past but has not yet made a $1,000 donation this year.

Let those on your prospect list know about your matching gift opportunities through a letter and an email (also mention it in your general communication such as newsletters) and follow up with them with emails and phone calls.  

Build your donor relationships as you would with any relationship – with kindness, with concern for their point of view, with regular communication about the impact their support makes, and with a balance of giving and asking .

Good luck!  And if you have any questions, feel free to email Davin Welter, GRN's Director of Development, at This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.