Donor Research Basics – (Part 2)

In our last article we reviewed three sources of donor prospecting research available to all ministries: internal, advocate, and external resources. We also categorized donors as general, mid-level, or major. Now that you have identified your donors, the next steps are qualify and cultivate.

Qualifying Donors
Major donors typically represent the top 10-20% of your donors. These individuals have given, or you believe have the capacity to give at your major donor giving threshold. Your time is limited, so you should qualify your major donor prospects to make sure they are genuine major donors. Some gifts meet your major donor criteria, but as you follow up you might learn that the donor made a one-time gift because they tithed an inheritance or sold a property. These donors may be great supporters but should probably be categorized and cultivated as mid-level donors.

The 4C Rating System
Qualifying donors requires some investigation work. Uncover this key donor information:

1. Connection – Does this person have a current or past connection to your ministry?

          • As a service recipient, or family member of a recipient?
          • As a former staff member of your ministry?
          • As a current or past advocate?
          • As a current or past volunteer?


2. Current – Is this person currently involved, or recently involved in the last 12-36 months?

          • As a donor to our ministry in the last three years?
          • As a service recipient, or family member of a service recipient?
          • As a current or past volunteer?
          • As an attendee at a recent community ministry or fundraising event?
          • Any of the above but more than three years prior?


3. Capacity – What do internal, advocacy, and external sources tell you about this person’s ability to give at your major gift level?

          • Are they someone who has given a major gift in the past to your ministry?
          • If not, has their pattern of giving or involvement indicated that they may be able to increase their giving?
          • Would advocacy sources such as your board members or development committee volunteers know these prospects and be willing to make an introduction?


4. Commitment – Does this prospect have a demonstrated commitment to your ministry mission? What is their interest level?

          • Are they a current donor or past donor?
          • What are their interests/hot buttons reflected in giving records or CRM notations?
          • Are they a current volunteer, past volunteer, or leader, but perhaps not a donor yet?
          • If so, how have they served?
          • Have they seen the impact of your ministry in a loved one, friends, or neighbors in the community?


Use the following 4C Score for each prospect based on the information you discover:

Prioritize your initial efforts with those donors and prospects having a 16-20 combined ratings total, then focus on those in the 12-15 range. Those who are mid-level donors or prospects may fall in the 8-12 range and should be engaged after you have reached those with higher ratings.

Cultivating Donors
Treat every donor with kindness and respect but concentrate your time with donors who have the capacity to significantly advance your ministry. You should invest 50 percent or more of your time cultivating relationships with these key donors through phone, direct email, and in-person or zoom meetings. In every phase of your donor relationships, you should always be in a discovery mode.  Never stop learning about your donors. Consider these questions to cultivate a deeper understanding about what connects them to your ministry.

          • What or who first ignited your interest in serving with or giving to our ministry?
          • What inspires you most about our mission? Why?
          • How would you relate your involvement with our ministry to your spiritual walk and life?
          • Can you think of a time when a ministry did something or responded in a way that surprised or delighted you? What was that experience like?
          • What strengths or opportunities do you see for our ministry?


Listen well to every donor conversation and record key points in your CRM to help build your institutional knowledge about each major donor.

Ask good questions and listen for your donors’ passions. Then you can present a tailor-made proposal that aligns perfectly with their capacity, interest, and heart!

About the Author: Jody Fausnight, CFRE, has worked in the fund development field for more than 25 years serving as a director of advancement, a community/public relations director with four non-profit organizations, and as a consultant. Jody has expertise in Christian school recruiting, public relations, fund development, and major gift cultivation strategies. He has successfully raised many millions on behalf of numerous organizations and has grown ministry development programs from the ground up on more than one occasion.

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