a fundraiser brainstorming how to identify major gifts prospects

Cultivating donor relationships to the point of a major gift is both an art and a science. It requires an intentional process that goes from identification, qualification, cultivation, and solicitation to stewardship.

These steps make up the fundraising cycle, and the better you are at the first step, the better your chances of securing more major gifts. 

This article discusses major gift prospects, specifically how and where you can find them. 

Who are Major Gifts Prospects?

Major gifts prospects are individuals who have the potential to become major donors. 

Major donors are the lifeblood of many nonprofit organizations’ fundraising strategies, and they are becoming more important than ever. Recent studies show that 90% of a nonprofit revenue can be raised from just 10% of its donors. So, that 10%—likely from major donors— is essential to your fundraising success.

Predict Your Major Gifts Fundraising Revenue

Use this free calculator to predict how much you can raise from your prospective donors so you can plan your campaign and outreach accordingly.

What Qualifies as a Major Gift?

The answer to this question varies depending on your nonprofit’s size and the amount of money you fundraise. For some nonprofits, it will be donors who give over $5,000, while for others, it will be donors who give over $10,000. You can find out who your major donors are by looking at the top 10% of your donor list. 

How Do I Find Major Gifts Prospects? 

Finding major gifts prospects may require extensive research. The good news is that there’s a great chance these prospects are already in your current database. So, that’s an excellent place to start. 

Several indicators can point you in the right direction to identify the potential major donors within your database. These indicators will show a contact’s inclination or capacity to give. The ideal major gifts prospect should be able to make a large gift (capacity) and be willing to make that gift to your organization (inclination). 

1. Capacity Indicators

  • Political donor: Does the donor give to political parties? This can strongly indicate that the individual can make a large donation. 
  • Real estate ownership: This wealth indicator shows that the individual has enough cash flow to make a large donation. 
  • Major giving elsewhere: If a donor has made a major gift to another nonprofit, then they can likely do it again. Donors are not locked into one organization and often want to share their wealth with various organizations. Yours could be next! 

2. Inclination Indicators

  • Personal connection: Almost 75% of major donors have a personal connection with the organization they give to, whether firsthand or through family or friends. They have either benefited from or contributed to similar causes and campaigns. So, consider your contacts’ personal histories to determine the right prospects for your major gifts fundraising campaign.
  • Major giving elsewhere: Being a major donor somewhere else indicates both capacity and inclination. Donors who gave $5k-$10k were about five times more likely to donate to another nonprofit, while donors who gave $100k+ were over 32 times more likely to donate elsewhere.
  • Board membership: If a prospect is on the board of your nonprofit, then they are already invested in your cause. If they are on a corporate board or the board of a related nonprofit, then this shows a social conscience and an inclination to get involved with the things they are passionate about. 
  • Volunteers: Your volunteers are invested in your mission enough to give up their time. More than 50% of donors donate to an organization because they volunteer there.
  • Giving history: Donors who give consistently, even if it is just a little bit, year after year could make great major donors. Their loyalty makes this donor group more likely to make a major donation. It may take years for that individual to have the capacity for a major gift, but that loyalty shows that when they do have the capacity- your nonprofit might be the one they choose to give to. 

Tip: Do you use RFM scores? RFM scores tell you the recency, frequency, and monetary value of a donor, which can help you determine their level of engagement with your organization. A strong RFM score can be a good indicator of whether they may be a good candidate for major donation.

Start Segmenting Your Donors

Use this FREE Donor Segmentation Template to segment your donors and contacts based on their level of engagement. 

Where Can I Find Major Donors? 

Now that you know what indicators to look for, you need to know where to look. Here are three places you can look for major donor prospects. 

1. Look to the “friends and family” of your nonprofit:

We don’t necessarily mean actual friends and family (though it could be!), but friendly faces who are already engaged with your organization in some way. This could be former staff, board members, volunteers, consultants, or former beneficiaries. 

2. Annual reports of similar organizations

Look at the annual report of an organization that supports the same cause or similar cause. For example, if your organization is a food bank, you may look to other nonprofits that support hunger alleviation and food systems work. 

Most organizations will acknowledge their major donors in their annual reports. Maybe some of their major donors make smaller donations to your organization. These can also be good places to find people to reach out to start a donor relationship as well. 

3. Your donor base

The best place for you to find major gift prospects is your own donor base. These contacts have a giving history with your nonprofit, so they already know and trust you. They are invested in your success and may be ready to make a major donation but haven’t been asked yet.

The best way to search your donor database for prospects is by using Fundraising KIT’s donor score to rank contacts based on when they gave (recency), how often they give (frequency) and how much they give (monetary). This segmentation system can identify ideal major gifts prospects so you can reach out to them. 

You can also use Fundraising KIT to track your engagement with these prospects and assess their response. 


Major donor prospects can come from anywhere; you just need to know how to find them. Using the right indicators of both capacity and interest, as well as tools such as Fundraising KIT, you can identify them.

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