How to Find Major Donor Prospects for Your School

February 11, 2016 Joe Garecht

If your school needs to fundraise, 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 or grandchildren currently attend, major donors will need to be approached and cultivated as part of a well-rounded donor cultivation plan.

Your Core Major Donor Prospect Groups

It is important to remember that for most K-12 schools, you have three core major donor prospect groups that you are working with:

  • Your alumni
  • Parents and family members of current students
  • Philanthropists and local businesses 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 (a) be part of one of those three groups or otherwise have indicated a willingness to give to your school, (b) have the financial capacity to give a major gift, and (c) be “reachable” by your school, meaning that someone from your school can make contact with the donor.  (E.g. Bill Gates may be fond of your high school’s technology education program but unless someone from your school can pick up the phone and call him, he’s not a good prospect for your institution).

How to Approach Major Donor Prospects

Finding suitable major donor prospects for your school is only half of the battle.  In order to reap large gifts for your institution, 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 school (as an alumni, parent, grandparent, 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.

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 head of school 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

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.



About the Author

Joe Garecht

Joe Garecht is a non-profit fundraising consultant, author, and speaker and the founder of Garecht Fundraising Associates and The Fundraising Authority. He has almost 20 years experience in fundraising as a development director, executive director, and consultant. As the executive director of Business Leadership Organized for Catholic Schools (BLOCS), Joe led the effort to raise $50 million in endowments for individual schools, raised $4 million yearly in scholarship funds, and modernized and professionalized the fundraising capabilities of over 175 parochial schools in the Philadelphia region. You can find Joe online at

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