Searching for Major Donors

“A man was there by the name of Zacchaeus; he was a chief tax collector and was wealthy. He wanted to see who Jesus was” Luke 19:2-3.

Every nonprofit organization is on the lookout for major donors. Whom do you know? Whom do your board members know? Whom do your other major donors know? What do you do if you run out of leads? How can you find new major donors? Qualified donors must possess these three characteristics: (1) a link to your ministry, (2) a giving interest that aligns with your mission, and (3) the ability to give a major gift. Zacchaeus was an unlikely major donor, but Jesus searched him out and transformed his life.

Everybody in town knew Zacchaeus was wealthy because he had overcharged them on their taxes. Discovering a prospective donor’s ability is the easiest of the three characteristics. There are many external wealth indicators that a wealth screening service can identify. What does your prospective donor do for a living? Where do they live? What do they drive? A board member instructed a consultant, “You need to approach Christian athletes because they have a lot of money.” The consultant asked, “Do you know anyone personally?” The board member responded, “No, but you can look it up.” It’s true you can search the internet for the salaries of athletes or even executives who work for a publicly traded company, but ability isn’t enough.

Word got out that Jesus was coming to town and Zacchaeus was interested. Perhaps he had heard the good news of Jesus restoring sight to Bartimaeus (see Luke 18:35-43). Zacchaeus was height-challenged so he climbed his famous sycamore tree to get a closer look. Why would a major donor want to take a closer look at your ministry? The answer is because they see results. Your impact stories separate you from other organizations. If your ministry is making an eternal difference, word will get out and major donors will notice.

Finding personal connections to your ministry is the most challenging step in major donor development. Zacchaeus did not have a link to Jesus, so Jesus created a link. In fact, Zacchaeus was the reason Jesus went to Jericho. “For the Son of Man came to seek and to save the lost” (Luke 19:10). Some criticized Jesus for pursuing Zacchaeus (see Luke 19:7). Some may criticize you for identifying, cultivating, and soliciting a major donor who doesn’t fit your typical donor profile. Links to prospective donors come through many different networks. Pursue them all.

Zacchaeus’ heart was totally transformed by his encounter with Jesus, and he demonstrated it by his generosity. “Look, Lord! Here and now I give half of my possessions to the poor” (Luke 11:9). What unlocks this level of generosity? First, your donor needs to experience Jesus personally, and secondly, your donor needs to see how their gift will help bring others to Jesus.

Think About This: Jesus went to Zacchaeus’ home to spend time with him. That’s where personal conversations happen. As a ministry leader, you should make it a priority to visit your key prospects in their homes and share your ministry stories.

Response: Please guide me to major donors who can partner with us.

Ron Haas has served the Lord as a pastor, the vice president of advancement of a Bible college, a Christian foundation director, a board member and a fundraising consultant. He’s authored two books: Ask for a Fish – Bold Faith-Based Fundraising and Simply Share – Bold, Grace-Based Giving. He regularly presents fundraising workshops at ministry conferences and has written fundraising articles for At the Center magazine and Christian Leadership Alliance’s Outcomes magazine.

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