major gift portfolio

Individual giving is the backbone of a diversified fundraising program, with over 70% of all charitable gifts made by individuals. And, major gifts are the ultimate in transformational engagement. What many may not realize is that major gifts can be done in any sized fundraising shop. The misnomer that you need to be a particular sized shop is not applicable. Large or small, the systems and the processes are the same. 

What is different is the scope and scale. So, where do you begin your efforts towards creating a major gift portfolio?

Based on best practices, outlined below are the recommended steps to take when developing your major gift portfolio: 

Step #1 – Start by identifying your major gift prospects. Where do you find them? 

First, look within your database. 

The importance of building broad bases of donors allows you always to have a “pipeline” of prospects to upgrade to more significant and deeper engagement. By looking first within your database, you will find those that already know your organization, love it, and have a history of supporting it. Once you have discovered who those major donor prospects may be, you can then move to look towards outside sources to reveal potential donor prospects that give to other similar causes and have affinities.

Step #2 – Once you have a fully developed prospect list, then you must focus your list by rating and ranking those that are on it. You can start this process of rating and ranking by conducting a wealth screening. After you have screened the database, it is highly recommended that you turn to the old “tried and trusted” rating and ranking sessions to adequately provide informed information that will allow you to better rank your prospect list.  

Step #3 – After rating and ranking your lists, you then want to take those ratings and rankings and tier your prospective donor list based on Tier A, B, and C. 

Tier A prospective donors are those who have the highest affinity, capacity, and engagement with your organization, and you know they are open to your organization. These donors are the ones that will require highly personalized cultivation touches. Tier B donor prospects are ranked a bit lower than the A’s.  

Tier B’s have the capacity and giving history, but they may not be as receptive to in-person cultivation moves such as meetings, etc. Tier C donor prospects are those who have the capacity and are somewhat engaged in your organization.  

Tier C prospective donor’s cultivation moves may include mailings and updates that are less personal. Tiering your potential donor list allows those who are managing the portfolios to be focused on their work.

Step #4 – After you tier your prospective donor list, then you will move onto conducting discovery call visits with your Tier A prospects to determine and qualify their interest in continuing to develop and seeping their relationship with the organization. The discovery call visit is not a solicitation for funds, but an excavation to learn about why a donor chooses to give to your cause and what motivates and inspires them to give.

Step #5 – Once you have conducted your donor discovery call visits, then you are better informed as to whom remains in your portfolio and then can develop revenue goals based upon all of the information that you have gathered to date. This information may include things such as giving history, wealth screening data, outstanding pledges to other organizations, family commitments, level of interest in the cause, etc., etc., etc. After analyzing all of this, you would then set a target revenue goal that could also be a minimum and maximum range of sought-after contributions. 

Step #6 – After having developed a revenue goal for each of the prospective donors in your portfolio, then you must develop an individualized strategy of next “moves” or cultivation touches that will ultimately end in a gift solicitation. At the Tier A level, cultivation moves are highly individualized according to each donor and their preferences and interests. As you move further along in the tiers, cultivation moves become less personal and more mechanical.   

Step #7 – Now, you are ready to build your organization’s major donor portfolio’s. Commonly held industry standard recommends that a major gift portfolio should be in the range of 150 prospective donors. However, one must be realistic when it comes to expectations and how many can be reasonably accomplished given the many hats that small to medium-sized shops wear in their development offices. So, an ideal portfolio size could be in the range of 15-25 for a Development Director who is “doing it all” to 10 -15 for a CEO/Executive Director.

The above steps have been applied for work with my clients in helping them to successfully build their major gift portfolio in any sized fundraising shop. The key to developing them is to build a strong prospective donor list through wealth screening, rating and ranking, tiering, and qualifying, and then strategically establish revenue goals and structured cultivation moves. Through this method, no matter the size of the fundraising shop, your organization will be poised to be effective and focused on its individual giving work. No longer can one say, “We are too small even to begin.” It is a matter of seeing the importance of the donor relating to the organization and its resulting impact, and committing to taking the steps no matter how small or large to structuring these efforts towards this aim.

Major gift fundraising

Robin Cabral
Robin L. Cabral, MA, CFRE is the one and only outsourced development professional providing value-added interim development staffing and consulting services with razor-sharp monthly result objectives and benchmarked deliverables. With her over 25 years of experience, she has raised millions of dollars for small to mid-sized organizations. Her hands-on results-driven approach to raising money comes directly from both her experience assisting worldwide, national and local organizations, and her cutting-edge Masters of Arts degree in Philanthropy and Fund Development from Saint Mary’sMary’s of Minnesota. Robin is also an AFP International Master Faculty Trainer and presents nationally and online. She works with nonprofits that want to position themselves to build capacity and generate MORE fundraising prospects, BETTER donor relationships, and BIGGER fundraising dollars. She is the leader in providing outsourced Nonprofit Fundraising Development Services, interim development services, and coaching and assisting smaller organizations in their first campaigns; annual, capital, and endowments.