Many arts and cultural organizations find it challenging to convert subscribers and members to becoming donors.  Effective and engaging communication efforts are often the key to success.  The challenge I will be discussing here is: how do we find larger donors to cultivate for major gifts from our existing donor pool?  Who amongst our list of smaller donors looks like they could be a major gift donor to our nonprofit?

There are things we can do in our database to start out with, where there are no financial costs involved, but more in terms of staff time in segmenting the current donor base.

  • First of all you will want to make sure you have been in contact with any prospect who has given a major gift in the past three years ($1,000+ is what I often see at most arts and cultural organizations I work with) but who have also given a gift in the past year as well – you might be surprised who hasn’t been contacted that you may have lost sight of!
  • Next look at contacting your recent donors, meaning those who have given in the past year, who have been a mid-level donors in the past three years (again, this is often $500-$1,000 or somewhere just under that level). If this list is too large to tackle in timely manner, you can cull this list down in one of the following ways:
    • Those whose largest mid-level gift was in the recent year
    • Those whose most recent gift is increased over their average giving
    • Those who have given multiple gifts
    • Those who are long-loyal donors of 5+ years
    • If not long-loyal donors, then those who are long-loyal subscribers or members of 5+ years

These long-loyal donors have demonstrated affinity for your nonprofit and have acknowledged that supporting your organization beyond ticket or membership prices makes them partners in your success to help further your mission.  Those who have 5+ years in ticket subscriptions to your opera house, theatre, or choir or as members of your museum or art gallery have demonstrated how much attending performances or exhibits brings at least some level of fulfillment to their lives.  In other words, they most likely care about what you do, so that is a start towards building affinity.  This along with giving recently and at a mid-level make them potential prospects for future major gifts.

Looking for data outside your fundraising system is important too.  Predictive modeling for likelihood and capacity, principal-level profile segementation, and wealth indicators and screening can all be ways to both identify and qualify potential major gift donors.  Predictive models often look at what other demographics, wealth variables, lifestyle factors, and philanthropic propensity describe your major gift donors.  These types of models help to identify who else in your database look like major gift prospects.  Wealth screening and identification tools help in vetting initial data to assit in qualifying prospects at the level idenfied from the modeling.  Analysis of your database helps you gather a list of donors and prospects you currently know about, and this helps you find those who represent future major gift potential.

Google, LinkedIn, Zillow, and other Internet resources can also offer free or inexpensive tools for individual prospect research, but they can also be time-consuming.  My advice is to just make sure your efforts with these resources are not outweighing the results necessary for your major gift program.  Spending hour upon hour qualifying a handful of prospects using only internal data prospecting and free internet searches to end up not yielding viable prospects for your major gifts cultivation program can be discouraging at best.  Rather I encourage you to invest in identifying and prioritizing your best pool of prospects to ensure more effective use of your precious resources.  Please feel free to share any ideas or success stories that you have had within your arts organization!

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