November 24, 2020


As you finish your fall campaign and begin your calendar-year-end campaign, you’re certain to have some some new or returning $1,200 donors. These donors could become your next major gift prospects. A few easy strategies can help you identify a crop of excellent prospects for 2021.

First, make sure you’re stewarding the wonderful donors who have given you a $1,200 gift. You should have a process in place to make sure this happens without fail. If you need to establish one, these resources can help you get started.

Prospect Research

The next step is to learn a little bit about each new donor. You don’t need to do a full prospect research report, but gathering some basic information about the donor will help you put them in context. How they made their gift can tell you quite a bit. Did they call in to make the gift during a drive? That lets you know they don’t mind phone conversations and you can feel less anxious about calling them. Did they give through a donor-advised fund (DAF)? Having a DAF likely means they value philanthropy as a part of their budget and make careful decisions about how to give. Additionally, they likely have a high giving capacity. Did they add a comment about why they gave? Donors often give us wonderful information about what they love along with their gift. Use this information to connect with the donor’s interests. Be careful not to assume too much, but gather any clues that might help you understand if they are a prospective major donor.

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Opening the Door to Connection

The best way to discover if a new donor is a major giving prospect is to make a connection with them. Donors have consistently told researchers that they value prompt, personal, and specific thanks after a gift. So your goal will be to reach out to this new donor and do just that. Thanking the donor is, of course, critical, but your secondary goal should be to create an opportunity for more engagement with this new donor. You want them to feel like a partner to your team and connected to the mission, which is hard to accomplish with a simple thank-you note.

Many times gift officers with the best of intentions send letters or notes to new donors with something like this:

We would love to hear more about your reason for selecting [STATION] as the recipient of your gift. You can contact me at or via phone at xxx-xxx-xxxx.”

The problem is that it doesn’t tend to prompt donors to take action. A donor is unlikely to go out of their way to email or call you. It’s not that they aren’t passionate about your station, it’s just that this isn’t as open an invitation as it might seem.

Creating an Open Invitation

An open invitation is exactly what you should be aiming for in discovery and cultivation efforts with major donor prospects. Give them something to “chew on” – a way to actually engage – that interests them and creates a reason for you to keep connecting. This is best done over the phone. Asking a donor their favorite programming is a natural way to start, but consider also asking them to review and give feedback on a marketing piece, speak about why they support the station at an upcoming zoom hour, or to contribute a recorded testimonial to play on-air.

Engagement Strategies

Katrina Harvey-Watt from KEXP shares her process for engaging new donors who have raised their hands with a gift.

“Every Monday, I review all the new gifts of $1,000 or more. Typically, I’m familiar with most of the donors’ names, but occasionally there’s a new donor on the list or a donor who’s never made a gift of that size before. What are my next steps? Of course, the first step is to call and/or email the donor to thank them for their gift and learn what inspired their generosity. And then I invite them to make a challenge gift for our next campaign. 

While I know that thanking a donor and immediately soliciting another gift is somewhat controversial, I’ve found that many donors are thrilled to be invited to think tactically about how their gift can inspire other listeners to support the station they love. In fact, they often thank me for reaching out to include them in our fundraising strategy. It is often these challenge donors who go on to make major gifts to special initiatives.”

Here are some other engagement ideas:

  1. Directly ask any $1,200 (or your stations level) donors who haven’t renewed their gift. Don’t be afraid to call even if you’ve sent a letter. Be thoughtful and gracious but also let them know how critical their support is at this time.
  2. Remind your donors and prospects that they can give online anytime since your office is likely still closed due to the pandemic.
  3. Have your engagement options ready to go and create tasks so you stay up to date with new donors. Keep in mind that in-person engagement is unlikely to be possible for a while.
  4. Use January as a time to learn more about all the donors in your portfolio. You want to be able to identify their interests and philanthropic goals. Track that information so it’s available to other stakeholders.
  5. Build out individual strategies for each qualified major donor prospect for 2021.

Don’t Give Up too Quickly

Many times gift officers mark prospects as being unqualified because they aren’t responding to engagement from the station. Be careful that you have not made an incorrect assumption. Try a variety of ways to engage a prospect before you make that determination. Some resources are available in the Major Giving Toolkit that may be helpful.

Calendar year-end is coming up in just a few weeks, so now is the time to put into practice your best efforts to engage gift-club and major donors, and to secure as many gifts as possible.

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