Where do BIG donors come from?

Where do BIG donors come from?

In Australia we can see that the largest source of mid and major individual donors is actually donors already giving, but at a lower level.  Is this true in USA too?


In November I going to the Non Profit Story Telling Conference in Chicago. I hope you are too (it is 10-11th).


Last time I was in that city I listened to Eli Jordfald from the Lineberger Comprehensive Cancer Center at the University of Carolina.

Just like in Australia, the majority of their major donors came from existing, smaller gift donors.  In fact – 85%!  And the majority of those were ex-patients.
In the US, major donor fundraisers talk about ‘The Discovery Call’. These are calls that connect people with what the organisation does. Physical, or by phone they are not really ‘cold calls’. Yet fundraisers still dread them.

Eli’s first angle is to look at people who are already grateful. Ex-patients are obvious choices, but other ‘alumni’ should be considered.  But you have to be quick. People are not grateful forever.

Her list for prioritizing targets is remarkably similar to the Pareto ‘major donors next week’ program.
– past donors
– first time donors (everyone!)
– alumni
– board
– donors to similar causes
– screened grateful patient lists

The screening is wealth screening – where a company compares your donor list with very rich people, or known large givers.

So you have a list. So what do you do next?  Meet these potential large donors!

Eli does discovery calls.  Whatever you do, at some point you have to call the prospect.  And listen. These are not sales pitch calls they are question sessions: the goal is a meeting – but only if it is worthwhile.

The purpose of the first call is not to get a visit but to assess whether a visit is appropriate. Be prudent – is it worth it? Visits are expensive.

If you do determine that the prospect is not a major gift prospect, it is fine to ask during the call. Unless they give you a reason not to ask – ie the person says they are broke, just lost their house, gone bankrupt etc.

So, you get to speak to them. What do you say?  Eli told me…
– Opening
– Assess interest
– Validate capacity
– Determine next steps

Examples of openers:

Introduce yourself, thank for previous gifts and ask something like “I understand that you were recently at my hospital and I would be interested to hear about your experience there”.

Examples of questions assessing interest:

– Tell me about your personal experience

– How do you see your involvement

– Would you be interested in learning more about our research and clinical programs?

– What areas interest you most in the field of cancer?

Basically, ask why they believe in your cause.

Examples of validating capacity questions….
– did you work while in treatment?
– now that treatment is over, do you plan to travel?
– do you have favourite organisations you like to support? …. Tell me about your involvement.

Examples of questions to determine next steps…
– I’m planning a trip to (your town) next week, would it be convenient to meet in person?
– I would like to invite you to a unique tour of the new cancer hospital
– would you like a tour … something else

That should help you get appointments.  But remember: you won’t get through to everyone you want to.

If you’re interested in learning more about making the big ask – you might want to sign up for my next webinar!

Click here if you haven’t already registered for

Top Tips For The Conversation That Gets The BIG Gift From The Mid Value Donor.

Live on Thurs 27th and Fri 28th October (depending on your time zone), and the recording and slides available for all who register – even if you can’t make the date.

I hope you’ll join me.


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