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How to make a success of your major donor program during uncertain times

When economic times are uncertain, the obvious strategy is to concentrate on donors at the higher end of the giving pyramid.

Major donors have the potential to make more of an impact with their gift with less output from a potentially stretched team. While this doesn’t mean you should discount prospects and lower-end donors completely, during these times where donors are likely to be reassessing their charitable giving, it makes more sense to increase the effort on those higher giving programs.

Here are our recommendations to make a success of your major donor program during uncertain times.


Major donors are likely to have a public profile and thorough research is a must. Google search each donor and refer to previous correspondence which should all be detailed in the CRM. Also, research any business ventures and philanthropic goals of the donor.

This will give you insight into how the current situation has affected them and identify any other areas of interest. It will also help you create specifically targeted communications that personally appeal.

Report and analysis

At this point, it’s essential you know everything there is to know about a major donor’s giving history. Run and analyse comprehensive reports on the time of year and value of past donations and identify any correlations. If you can pinpoint when a donor would typically give their gift and for how much, this will help you maximise the opportunity to ask for support at the right time and in the way they are most likely to respond to.

Utilise the board

A charity’s board of directors is usually a very well-connected group of professionals. Devise a strategy that encourages the board to introduce anyone relevant who is likely to give at major donor level. Of course, it generally takes time and stewardship to nurture someone into the major donor program but utilising these powerful connections from people already connected to the charity may be an effective way to source new major donors.


Likely, regular major donors may not be able to make their gift as usual this year but it’s still important that you continue with your strategy and don’t get disheartened. Persevere and respect the donor’s circumstances because, with the right care and attention, there’s the chance that they may increase their usual gift the next time they’re able to do so.

Utilise video technology

Face-to-face contact is crucial for building and maintaining major donor relationships. In times of social distancing, however, donors may no longer feel comfortable having guests in their home or may not be conducting unnecessary outings for non-essential meetings. It’s still vital that you conduct those regular face-to-face meetings to continue building engagement. If you’re unable to catch up personally, try to utilise video technology and set up a Skype or Zoom call where appropriate.

Say thank you

Most major donor programs include regular events to thank donors in person and demonstrate what their support has achieved. This may not be possible in our current climate but it’s important you still find creative ways to bring your donors together and connect them with the outcomes of their support. Consider online events or making a DVD and mailing to donors who don’t have the technological capacity to follow you online.

While the major donor program has the potential to take a significant hit during uncertain times, it’s also important to remember that just one extra donation could make up a shortfall of many others.

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