How to Find Major University Donors for Your School | npENGAGE

How to Find Major University Donors for Your School

By on Feb 17, 2016


Searching for your next major university donors

If your college or university needs to fundraise (and you do), then it relies on finding a steady stream of new donors. Your fundraising funnel requires your school to put sufficient new prospects into the system in order to produce enough donations to fund your school’s activities.

Strong, systematic prospecting is doubly important for major donor fundraising. While many of your donors may give small amounts to your school simply because of their fond memories of attending or because their children currently attend, major donors will need to be approached and cultivated as part of a well-rounded donor cultivation plan.

The 3 Major Donor Prospect Groups

It is important to remember that for the average higher education institution, you have three core major donor prospect groups that you are working with:

  • Alumni
  • Parents and family members of current students
  • Philanthropists who are interested in your programs or methodology

In order to find new major donors, your team will need to pay close attention to these three groups of people to intentionally determine whether or not individuals are good major donor prospects for your school.

To be considered a strong major donor prospect for your institution, a person must:

  • Be part of one of those three groups or otherwise have indicated a willingness to give to your school
  • Have the financial capacity to give a major gift
  • Be “reachable” by your school, meaning that someone from your college/university can make contact with the donor.  (E.g. Bill Gates may be fond of your school’s educational methodology but unless someone from your college can pick up the phone and call him, he’s not a good prospect for your institution).

How to Approach University Donors and Prospects

Finding suitable major donor prospects for your school is only half of the battle. In order to reap large gifts for your college or university, your fundraising team will need to approach and cultivate each prospect individually before making an ask.

Remember that donors give to non-profits based on relationships. Many of your major donor prospects will already have some sort of relationship with your university (as an alumni, parent, etc.) but that’s not enough for them to make a transformative gift to your institution. You will need to invest time and resources into building strong, ongoing relationships with your major prospects in order for them to give.

1. Be Direct

The best way to reach out to a new major donor prospect is to be direct. If someone at your school, on your board, or in your donor universe knows the prospect, ask them to make an introduction.  If no one can make an introduction, then your fundraising lead or someone relatively high in the school administration should pick up the phone and invite the prospect out for breakfast, lunch or coffee. Spend some time getting to know the prospect. Let them do the talking. Ask for their advice. Determine their interests. Then thank them for their time

2. Cultivate the Relationship

Your goal after the first meeting is to spend anywhere from 2-6 months cultivating the donor prior to making an ask. (This may differ if you are making a major, life-changing sized ask, though that type of ask should generally not be the first major ask you make of a prospect). Stay in touch with the prospect through e-mails, letters, visits, calls, etc. Slowly build your case for a major gift and slowly get the person involved with other, non-financial activities. Lay the foundation now, and you’ll soon be ready to make a major ask.


Joe Garecht is a non-profit consultant, author, and speaker, and President of Garecht Fundraising Associates.  Previously, he was the founder of The Fundraising Authority.  He has almost 20 years of fundraising experience as a development director, executive director, and consultant to hundreds of non-profit organizations.  Joe is the author of How to Raise More Money for Any Non-Profit, The Non-Profit Fundraising Formula, and numerous other books on fundraising & philanthropy.  You can get in touch with Joe by visiting his website at

Comments (1)

  • Md. Imran Chowdhury says:

    Dear Joe Garecht,
    Its a great news for us that a new university ” University of Global Village (UGV), Barisal, Bangladesh has been started their educational activities science July-2017 with Govt & UGC permission. At this moment our school of engineering and technology has more then 1000 students in undergraduate program. we have need more investment for development of school of engineering and technology.
    Please advice me how will we get an international fund or raising a fund for development of school.

    Thank You
    Md. Imran Chowdhury
    Chairman (BOT)
    University of Global Village (UGV)
    874/322, C & B Road, Barisal,

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