Roy C. Jones, CFRE

Contrary to popular opinion, major donors do not come from a super secret list of wealthy philanthropists.  They do not come from a little black book safeguarded by your fundraising counsel.  They do not suddenly appear at your door step after you have made a visit to the local ballet or art museum, and they certainly don’t follow you home from your last visit to the chamber of commerce meeting.

Major donors are found on the little black box sitting on your desk with a keyboard plugged into it.  That’s right, major donors nearly always originate from your own database.  They begin by making a $25, $50 or $100 donation to your organization.  They begin by becoming a monthly sponsor of just $25 or $50.  Over time, depending on what your organization does and how they are treated they gradually begin increasing their donation amount.

Major donors NEVER (or rarely) begin by making 5-figure and 6-figure gifts to your non-profit organization.  Remember, major donors are NOT donors at all.  They are investors!   Major donors expect (some will even demand) to see a return on their investment before they increase their giving.

If the donor is not “stewarded” properly, what happens?  They simply stop giving to your and give to another charity that has figured out who they are and has given them the attention, acknowledgement and ROI reporting they expect.  Remember too, major donors are always “multi-donors”.  They give to multiple organizations. 

A recent study called “Heart of the Donor” interviewed donors from more than 300 non-profit organizations.  The research was commissioned by America’s largest fundraising agency, Russ Reid, and revealed that the average donor gives to SIX different charities.  So if you are not doing the right things with your major donor prospects, guess what?  Someone else is…

The situation reminds me of a quote from one of my favorite Civil War generals from the deep south, “He who gets there the firstest with the mostest WINS…”  It is not good grammar, but it makes the point.  If you want to become the favorite charity who gets the lions share of a major donors investment dollar you have to communicate with them quickly and demonstrate the biggest bang for every dollar invested into your organization.  Return on investment (ROI) is critical to growing major donor investment.