Fundraise Smarter

Annual Fundraising Events: 5 Ways to Identify Major Donors

Posted by Bill Tedesco on Aug 21, 2018 1:12:00 PM



Annual fundraising events are a bright spot of joy on any nonprofit’s event calendar. They’re a great time to celebrate the work that your organization has done with the community, spread the news about upcoming projects, and have an all-around good time.

But these events aren’t all play and no work—they’re also an important time to build and strengthen relationships with people important to the success of your organization. We’re talking about major gift givers.

The size of gift that defines a major donor may vary from organization to organization, but no matter what, they are an important part of your organization’s support system. To help you find major donors and cultivate relationships with them, we’ve compiled our 5 favorite tips.

  1. Expand your lists of potential major donors.
  2. Tailor your events to your potential major donors.
  3. Optimize your event planning and communication strategies.
  4. Make the most of your annual event.
  5. Connect with potential major donors after your event.

These strategies can help you and your team broaden your prospect horizons, plan better events, and more successfully build connections with the people you meet. Let’s get started.


1. Expand your lists of potential major donors.

The first step of finding major donors is to know where to look for them! The natural place to start is your own list of donors, including your existing major donors, but there are so many other places to look as well.

We’ll start by outlining where to look for these prospects, and then we’ll offer suggestions on how to determine who might have the potential to be a major giver.

Keep track of the information you find by filling out a prospect profile template as you go.

You might be overlooking a diamond in the rough, so consider screening the following lists for potential major donors:

  • Your existing list of regular donors
  • Previous event attendees
  • One-time donors
  • Your organization’s volunteers
  • Your nonprofit’s members

Don’t forget to ask your board for suggestions of their friends and coworkers who share their values and priorities and might be looking for a philanthropic outlet.

Once you’ve gone over your lists of people engaged with your organization on some level, cast your net wider to those who aren’t involved in your nonprofit but could be!

These prospects have typically given to nonprofits similar to yours or to political organizations with similar missions.

Now what do you do with all of these people? Conduct prospect research! Prospect research is a strategy of understanding potential donors by looking through publicly available information including:

  • Philanthropic involvement with other organizations
  • Donations to political organizations
  • Wealth markers, including real estate and vehicle/boat ownership
  • Shares in publicly traded companies

These four data points may seem unrelated, but they actually give your nonprofit two very important facets of a person: their capacity to give and their affinity for giving. Capacity is measured through wealth markers, and affinity is measured through previous giving.

You can keep track of this information in either your CMS or through filled out as you do your research. .

By compounding all of this data, you can segment your potential major gifts list to remove those who don’t have the capacity or any proven interest in your cause.

While you don’t have to give up on these people completely in terms of potential donors, you don’t need to focus your major gifts solicitations on them.

One more note: while conducting your research, don’t forget about aspects that aren’t related to wealth or philanthropic history. Use social media to find out about their hobbies and interests. This is a great way to eventually to connect with them more personally.

Now that you have your list of potential major donors to research, let’s move on to planning the event.


2. Tailor your event to your potential major donors.

There are a few ways to make your annual fundraising event work for your major gifts solicitations.

First, consider what events are on your nonprofit’s docket. Are you planning your approaches for your yearly fun run? Or are you holding off for a more formal event, like a sit-down dinner?

If you have more than one event that your nonprofit puts on annually, aim to invite your major gift prospects to the more formal one.

Formal events tend to draw a more affluent crowd than your fun-run does, and mingling with your other major donors might have a beneficial influence on your potential donors.

If you need some help deciding what event to use during your major gift approaches, consider some of the following qualities of great events:

  • Is it held in a place where attendees feel comfortable?
  • Does your event offer time for quality conversation and relationship-building?
  • Will this event make people feel good about what your nonprofit does?

If the answer to these questions is yes, then go for it! It’s especially important that your event allows time for you, your team, or your board to mingle and talk with the attendees, so that you can learn more about your prospects and gauge interest in making a major gift.

Keep in mind the age range of your target demographic: more and more young people are becoming major givers. It’s important not to discount this important and growing sector of philanthropists when planning an event that will make everyone happy.

A great way to get to know new potential donors, celebrate your current donors, and host a fantastic annual event is to combine all of your priorities into one great night: a donor appreciation party!

The point of this evening isn’t to make an ask: it’s to remind your donors why they love working with your organization and keep them updated on your nonprofit, as well as see how they’re doing and spend quality time with them.

To court your next cohort of major gift donors, invite your most promising potentials (especially your mid-level donors who might be ready to upgrade). They’ll get to interact with other donors who share their values, and you’ll get to show them how well your organization shows gratitude.


3. Optimize your event planning and communication strategies.

Your nonprofit’s event has a lot riding on it, and the stakes are high! It’s important that your event go off without a hitch and encourage your potential donors to trust your organization.

If you’re thinking about changing up the way your nonprofit does events, consider investing in a new event management software. The best of them will handle information storage, registration, and ticketing, and some of them will even track dietary restrictions and seating requests.

While it may be your software keeping track of everything, your attendees will think that your team is a lean, mean, event-planning machine. If the event goes well, your mind will be at ease and you can engage with your attendees, instead of putting out fires.

If you need more help than what a software can provide, consider pulling a fundraising consultant onto your team. They’ll be able to help you with everything from prospect research to post-event communications. Check out DonorSearch’s list of top consultants for help.

While you’re planning your event, you should also be communicating with your donors, both existing and potential. Even before you send out your formal invitation, you should be in contact with them.

Some natural ways to stay in touch with your prospective attendees include:

  • Upcoming volunteer events
  • Another thank-you for a previous gift
  • Reminders of upcoming fundraisers
  • A publication from your nonprofit
  • Membership updates regarding perks or enrollment dates

Anything that starts a dialogue between you and your donors is a good thing! And anything that helps you establish a personal connection between the potential donors and your organization or its cause is a great way to start a long, healthy relationship.

Use your research, your donor database, or your team’s personal knowledge of these people to ensure that you’re connecting with them efficiently. Are they big fans of phone calls? Are they only receptive to emails?

Make sure you know how to best contact them, or if you don’t, try in enough ways that you can find out what they like best.

If you know a donor has a connection to a potential donor, reach out to them for an introduction! Asking your donors to be part of the team can supercharge your efforts and make your communications more personal and effective.

Then, after the conversation has started, send them an invitation to your awesome event. They’ll be happy to get more involved and socialize with people with similar values and priorities.


4. Make the most of your annual event.

The big day is here! Hurray! But now it’s time to make sure that all of your careful planning doesn’t go to waste.

Segment your attendee data to break people into groups with similar interests or belonging to the same demographics. These segmentations could include:

  • Age range
  • Retirement status
  • Parenthood
  • Employer/industry

If you’re having a hard time figuring out how to segment your donors, consider reading up on segmentation strategies with this guide from Salsa.

By including a blend of existing donors and potential donors in each group, you can make these people’s social, interpersonal connections work for you.

Your existing donors will be happy to discuss your nonprofit with their peers, and your potential donors will be more likely to donate later if they have a good time at the event.

Another key strategy for getting potential major gift donors involved in conversations that aren’t outright asks is to intersperse the crowd with your leadership. Ask your executive team and board members to mingle and get to know people.

This is where your careful prospect research can come in: identify those who have the most potential to become a major gift donor and assign key leaders to specifically target those people with conversation.

The potential donor will be flattered that your nonprofit knows who they are and wants to talk to them, and you can rest assured that they will be in the good hands of your leadership or board members.

Use this time to have a genuine conversation with the potential donor. Feel out whether or not they’re open to making a major gift, or becoming a more regular part of your organization. Talk up your membership program or volunteer opportunities!

Finally, consider asking an existing major donor to be the keynote speaker at your event. They don’t have to give a long presentation: a short and sweet series of remarks on the positive contribution of your nonprofit in both their personal life and in the community would suffice.

This strategy has the twofold benefit of encouraging newer and potential donors to remain engaged and involved with your organization, as well as recognizing the support and loyalty that the speaker has shown to your nonprofit.


5. Connect with potential major donors after the event.

Your annual event served two purposes: to connect with your potential major donors in a personal way, and to introduce you to even more potential donors!

Once you’ve organized (or your CRM has organized) the data of all the attendees of your event, take a quick look through your attendance list. Who on that list do you not know? People unconnected to your organization may have attended as dates of others.

Once you know who was recently introduced to your organization, conduct prospect research again! Do they have the capacity or the affinity to give? If they do, earmark them for outreach and stewardship.

After your event is over, stewardship and donor cultivation are going to be your organization’s priorities. Have everyone who attended the event from your team compare notes. Who was open to making a major gift? Who was definitely not interested?

Consider inviting your potential donors to some of these fun and engaging activities:

  • A tour of the office so they can meet the team
  • Volunteer opportunities so they can get more involved
  • Another VIP event to deepen their social connections
  • A meeting with leadership so they can see what your team does daily
  • An informational luncheon so they can learn more about your projects

If you invited one-time donors to your event, target them with information regarding their employer’s matching gifts program as well as with invitations to remain involved with your organization. They can maximize their impact as well as learn more!

Keeping your potential major gift donors engaged is the most important strategy for turning them from potential donors into your nonprofit’s donors.

Now that you’ve identified your potential major donors, focus your energy and know-how on closing the deal and making the ask.

Identifying major donors can be difficult, but with our 5 easy tips you can find diamonds in the rough and increase your nonprofit’s support base.

Between prospect research and interpersonal socializing, you’re sure to meet your goals and expand your community.

Topics: event fundraising, fundraising events

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