philanthropic capacity

Capacity matters in fundraising. That might be the most obvious thing for any fundraiser. People will give what they’re capable of giving. But time and time again, organizations I work with talk about having trouble filling their major gift pipeline, upgrading donors over time, or making any headway with lapsed donors. That’s because capacity matters, and more importantly, the philanthropic capacity of your donors matters. That is expressed in two ways: through their engagement with your mission and their generosity with other organizations.

1. Most importantly, a donor’s philanthropic capacity starts with their engagement with your organization, or their ability to buy in and believe in the mission of your organization. The first time a donor comes into contact with your organization hopefully they will glean at least one meaningful piece of your mission. Better yet, hopefully they will come away with at least one meaningful reason to support your organization. As they receive your monthly email newsletter, attend one of your community events, or tour your organization and see first hand the impact you make, they will continue to grow in understanding of mission and the need to support it. After they give a donation (most likely this first donation is going to be nominal), they will give you a chance to further strengthen their relationship and the involvement and tie to your organization.

Folks who have a few interactions but don’t donate — or donate once and don’t come back — haven’t bought into your mission. These are people you want to identify quickly as they won’t be major donors or most likely even mid-level donors to your program. These are constituents you want to engage with quickly so you don’t lose them forever. Whether they have capacity in terms of wealth will mean nothing to you since they haven’t bought in and haven’t expressed desire in supporting your efforts.

Other donors and constituents who not only continue to attend your events, read your newsletter, and make donations are people with the capacity in terms of their relationship with your organization to stretch and make a larger gift. Major donors don’t just appear. They will come from a group of constituents who have supported you in the past and who have been passionate about your mission.

2. Once you identify the donors ready to upgrade or become a major contributor to your organization, what they’ve done with other nonprofits like yours suddenly becomes critical. If these donors have never made a major gift anywhere else, don’t have a family foundation or donor-advised fund, and don’t give politically, well the fancy cars and houses they own don’t mean that much in terms of the likelihood of you getting a larger gift. These are good prospects for a smaller upgrade program or mid-level donor program. They’ve not demonstrated they’re ready to be asked for a larger amount.

Donors who do give major gifts elsewhere, have a family foundation, or contribute politically are donors you want to really target. Make sure you understand the range of their prior gifts. Have they given $1,000, $15,000, or $100,000? You don’t want to ask them for $5,000 if that’s way above their normal giving history of $500 – $1,000. Similarly, if you can find a pattern for $50,000 and $100,000 gifts, don’t ask them for $5,000. This is where you need good philanthropic research. You need to understand giving habits over time and types of organizations your supporters have given to. If they have a family foundation you want to know that to be able to see if there are specific ways you need to ask or approach them for a gift.

As you get ready for the fourth quarter of 2018 — when the majority of giving will happen this year — remember that the biggest gifts will come with folks who have the philanthropic capacity to give. They’ll have been generous with other nonprofits and have high engagement with your mission. If you can’t get that information out of your donor database, now’s the time to find one that can.

Major gift fundraising

Gabriel Harkov

Gabriel Harkov

Senior Account Executive at Bloomerang
Gabriel Harkov, MBA is a Senior Account Executive at Bloomerang. He was previously Operations and Program Associate at the Indiana Youth Institute and Operations Manager at the Indianapolis Children's Choir.