6 Major Donor Cultivation Tips To Catapult Your Nonprofit Toward Sustainability

The right relationships with major donors can seriously contribute to your nonprofit’s operational sustainability. But if you’ve never cultivated a major donor, where do you start?


What is a major donor, anyway? The answer varies from organization to organization, but in general, major donors give at a level that challenges them. Collected from GlobalGiving’s Peer Learning Network community, these major donor cultivation tips will help you identify and cultivate major donors to support your nonprofit’s mission.

Before diving into creating a major donor strategy, you should define what constitutes a major gift at your nonprofit. For a small nonprofit, $200 could be a major gift—for a larger organization, the minimum could be $100,000. Consider your nonprofit’s budget, donor history, and staff capacity when setting your own definition. Then, work through these six steps to help build major donor relationships that will last a lifetime.

    1. Assessment: Are you ready to make a big ask?

    Before jumping into a major donor giving program, make sure your nonprofit is prepared. Assess your organizational culture and need, as well as your staff’s capacity to support a major gift program and the challenges that come with it. Analyze your current donor base to identify who in your network could be a potential major donor. People who donate major gifts typically start donating at lower levels, so that’s where you need to start your research.

    2. Identification: Who are your potential major donors?

    During your research, look for specific indicators that might guide you toward a shorter list of potential major donors you could reach out to. These indicators can be:

  • Philanthropy: Is this person emotionally invested in your cause? Do they support similar causes that could complement—or compete with—your organization?
  • Wealth: Does this person have access to capital? You can usually get a basic idea of someone’s wealth by researching through Google or LinkedIn. You may find it helpful to experiment with paid subscription services for prospect research.
  • History: Has this person supported your work before?
  • major donor cultivation

    3. Cultivation: How are you planning for the future?

    Make a specific, actionable plan for your team: Assign tasks in order to know who will manage which aspects of your major donor relationships. Consider including research, prospecting, cultivation, communications, and reporting.

    Try not to ask for money during your first conversation with the potential major donor. Instead, identify other ways—a strong network of connections, strategic expertise, or programmatic knowledge—in which this person can help your organization before you eventually ask them for financial support. Demonstrating the value of their insight is key to engaging them with your organization later.

    4. Solicitation: How can you personalize your ask?

    Before asking for a large donation, be sure you have the prospective donor’s buy-in. In your conversation, lead up to the ask with a series of other conversations they can say “yes” to. Here are some examples:

  • Would you like to hear more about our school’s recent graduation and see pictures?
  • Can I tell you about our organization’s plans for this year?
  • We’re starting a new project later this year—would you like to learn more?
  • At this point, the prospective donor has consented to the conversation every step of the way. They shouldn’t be surprised when you end by asking for a large donation.

    Keep the conversation enthusiastic and have a fall-back plan if the individual says no. Practice how you’ll respond to the different answers you could get: yes; yes, but not now; yes, but not that much money; no; no, but maybe later; no, but I can volunteer/join your board/give pro bono support. Don’t be afraid to hear no! You’ll never know if you don’t ask.

    5. Confirmation: Have you covered the logistics?

    Larger gifts often take more time to arrange than regular donations. Discuss with your donor the exact amount, their preferred donation method, when to expect the donation, and—importantly—how you’ll follow up in order to demonstrate the donor’s impact. Make sure you have a shared understanding of how the gift should be used. Is this a donation toward a particular project, or can your nonprofit use it at your discretion?

    6. Stewardship: How are you building a strong, long-term relationship?

    Depending on how the donor prefers to stay connected with your work, keep them updated. This should be included in your internal plan to continue the cycle of cultivation. Who will send the thank you note? What should it mention? When and how should it be sent? Will you send other reports, set up coffee meetings, or call the donor on the phone?

If you want to keep the donor engaged, you’ll need to put yourself in their shoes and guide them through their tailored giving journey with your nonprofit. And most important of all, assess your relationship with a major donor over time: Make sure it stays relevant and beneficial to everyone involved.

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Featured Photo: Better Futures For Cambodian Children And Youth by M'Lop Tapang

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