Where Will the Money Come From? 8 Golden Rules for Identifying Prospects

Where do you look for potential donors?

Here are some shortcuts to help you identify the right donor prospects who can take your cause to the next level.

1. If you need funding, go to your current donors first.

They have already invested in you.

They are “pre-sold” on your organization and on your cause so to speak.

They’ve already voted with their money that they believe in you.

Work for deeper relationships with these existing donors, and you’ll be more successful.

2.  Start with your most committed donors and move them into larger gifts.

Find out what they are giving and what their vision is for your organization.

How much do they really care?

Are they giving what they can? What’s their potential? What are their hot buttons?

It’s up to you to find out!

3.  Look for people who have both wealth and affinity for your cause.

Focus your time on the wonderful people with deep pockets who have a reason to be interested in your cause.

“Affinity” means that there is some sort of relationship between you and the prospective donor.

Or at least you know that the donor is interested in your general cause.

Don’t spend your valuable time on people who have not indicated any type of interest, no matter how wealthy they are.

The odds are not great that you’ll be successful, and cultivation time will be lengthy.

4.  Don’t expect cold calls to yield anything.

This is the big No No.

I never make cold calls.

The changes of success are so very low.

Make it easier by having someone open the door to help you meet the prospect.

5. Focus on your top level donors.

95% of the money comes from 2-3% of your donors.

Always narrow down your focus to a few prospects with deep pockets at the top of the donor pyramid and work hard on relationships with them.

Don’t spread yourself too thin.

You’ll never be successful by chasing every possible donor who comes along, because you can’t manage the follow-up.

6. Set priorities relentlessly.

Take a look at your prospective donor pool.

Who are the ones most ready to say yes to a gift?

Who have the most capacity to give?

Identify the critical few – those with the greatest capacity to give, and prioritize.

7. Use your informal networks to identify prospects.

I believe in word of month prospect identification. In many communities, families with wealth are well-known.

It’s not difficult to identify the individuals who have the capability to make major gifts.

Their friends will often tell you all about them – and how to get the door open to them.

Are you ever surprised at what people will tell you about “other people’s money?” I am!

8. Pay attention to the ladies.

The most recent statistic I read said that 63% of our nation’s capital is held by women.

Women may hold the wealth in any family. Women often drive the gift.

And women are more generous than men.

A recent study by the Center on Philanthropy at Indiana University found this:

For every $100 men gave, women in the same economic circumstances gave $258.

Listen to the ladies and find out what they believe in and what they want to accomplish.

My favorite shortcut!

Do you know what I’d do if I needed to raise $50,000 in a month or two?

I’d find three people/sources who could each make a single $50,000 gift, and I’d pay each one of them lots of attention. I’d listen to their vision and find out their hot buttons.

Then, when I thought they were ready, I’d solicit each one of them.

Here’s how things would turn out:

One of the prospects would come through with the $50k gift, one would say no and one would make a gift below $50k.

That’s what I’ve found out after more than two decades in fundraising.

Try this strategy and let me know how it worked!

So what Golden Rules have I missed?

Leave a comment and share your own golden rule for identifying your next round of very special prospects.

What are your short cuts? Where are you successful? I’d love to hear!

(And if you like this article, please forward it to a colleague who might be interested too.)

Thanks for your comments and your thoughts!

AND if you want to jumpstart your major gifts program, join me on Monday for a super-duper Master Class: The Millionaire Next Door. 

You’ll find out how to develop cultivation events that will delight your donors and bring them closer to your organization.

You’ll find out how to stay on track with your major gift efforts. Find out more here!

See you soon!

  • Rick Weber

    Hi Gail,

    I had the opportunity to attend one of your seminars. It was one of the best I’ve ever attended. I’m very grateful to be on your “Fired Up Fundraising” mailing list. The information you share is pertinent & practical. It has been a great help as we work to utilize our staff resources in the most efficient and effective way.


  • Jane Jordan

    What’s missing? Education. Information. I am constantly reminded how little even those closest to their organizations really understand. We too often take for granted that people know what we’re talking about and why it is important, and they may very well not know. Informed prospects are more willing (and possibly generous) donors. We are in what we are beginning to realize is “a new normal” with a potential for people to become more cause-loyal than organization-loyal: Which organization is doing the best job and achieving the best outcomes with the best use of resources? It behooves us to ensure that our donors, prospects and volunteers know not just who we are, but what we are accomplishing and why they should care. Thank you for the opportunity to comment. I very much enjoy your newsletters and posts.

  • Kim Carpenter Drake

    I would also add Plan for Your Future Potential. One of the greatest challenges I see with my clients is that they have not spent enough time on the cultivation process to use many of your great tips. Focusing on high affinity donors is so important but it does require advance planning to get to know these people and to keep a running wish list in place.

    You can’t wait until it rains to build your umbrella!

  • Polly Laurelchild-Hertig

    Dear Gail,

    As always you amaze me with your timeliness and spot-on advice. Our small fundraising team is discussing major gifts cultivation right now. Your 8 golden rules are a great organizing principle for where to focus our efforts. Thank you!

  • Gail

    Rick – I’m humbled and grateful to be able to help you and your fine organization. Thanks for writing. : )

  • Gail

    Jane- how right you are! thanks for the thoughtful addition! Gail

  • Gail

    Yup, the cultivation process is necessary – and many nonprofits don’t understand how important it is to take your time with prospects. Gotta have that long bench of potential donors that you are always developing!

  • Pingback: Tweets that mention Where Will the Money Come From? 8 Golden Rules for Identifying Prospects | --

  • Stephen Coggins

    Gail, thanks as always for the great info you give freely & thoughtfully! You are my mentor forever! Love, Louise

  • Lindy Adams

    Gail, I think your messages are the best of all the non-profit/fund-raising emails I receive. However, I would encourage you to drop the use of “ladies” since it is offensive to many women, myself included. Thanks for your great insights.

  • Gail

    Thanks Linda, and great point. I think of myself as “totally liberated” but sometimes my southern upbringing shows. Thanks for pointing it out! : )