Management in the Not for Profit Organization

Dedicated to Exploring the Philosophies and Techniques of Management in the Non-Profit Sector

Major Gifts: Turn a $100 Donor into a $10,000 Angel


If your organization runs an annual appeal, you probably know you can rely on certain individuals or families to give every year.  In fact, there may be some people who give to your organization every year whether or not you even get around to asking. Often, those reliable, regular donors send a small check - $100 or so – just as a way to say they care.

Of course, it’s always nice to get a little something from a friend. And most likely you’re good about sending a thank-you note. But when you’re a non-profit, dependent upon donations for your very survival, regular donors are much more than friends. They’re potential angels, whose ongoing, unflagging interest in your organization means they may have the interest and ability to give much more than a token gift.

Consider the source of a regular annual gift. Who would give to an organization every year, without really thinking about whether or not it’s a good idea? Clearly the answer is an individual or family for whom your organization means something significant. Something beyond the everyday. For example:

Whatever the reasons, your donor cares.

Now, it’s time to show a little love to your donor, in the form of donor stewardship and cultivation. Over time, your interest in the donor – and the one-on-one conversations you’ll initiate with your friend – may lead to a stronger, more significant relationship. When a non-profit builds a real relationship with its best donors, it’s laying the ground for major gifts.

How do you steward and cultivate your relationship with your donor?

Start with the basics. If you “forgot” to say thank you, do so right away. If you forgot to add your donor to your mailing list, add them. If you run events, but neglect to invite your best donors, be sure they’re on top of the invite list.

Next, consider building your relationship. To do that, you’ll need to know more about them. If you know the donor personally, or know exactly why they’re interested in you, you’re one step ahead. If not, ask your staff, volunteers and board for information. Often, you’ll get the answer – and it can be very revealing.

Once you know who your donor is, and why he or she is so interested in your organization, you can move forward to build your relationship. Depending upon your organization and the particular donor, you may:

As you get to know your donor, you’ll build a profile of information that will help you decide whether this individual is a major gift prospect.  Do they have the financial means to give $1,000? $10,000? More? If they do, why would they give it? Are they interested in seeing their name in lights? Do they want to make a bequest (leave you money in their will)? Or do they just care about your cause?

Understanding your donor and your own needs, you’re now in the position to propose a specific gift suitable to the donor’s interests. A $1,000 gift (especially if it’s annual!) can pay for a program or class. A $5,000 gift can underwrite the purchase of a much-needed medical device or research tool. A $10,000 gift could pay for naming rights for a new room or collection.

No matter what your work or your mission, it’s always in your best interest to get to know your supporters. Who knows? The lady who has sent you a $100 check every year could turn out to be your biggest booster – and your biggest donor.

Sumac is a complete, integrated software solution for nonprofits that includes data mining to help you identify donors who are likely candidates to move up the donor pyramid. For information on Sumac or for more articles published by Sumac Research, visit: