One of the “secrets” of fundraising is that the majority of your contributions will come from a small percentage of your supporters. Well, that’s not all that unusual, right? What catches most people off guard is just how wide a space there is in this ratio of money and donors.

Well just how wide is this ratio? Hold onto your donor lists! No matter if you are a small local cause or a multi-national nonprofit –

95% of your contributions is provided by only 5% of your donors.

5% of donors provide 95% of funds


You want to treat each donor with appreciation and respect because you know that some of the donors in today’s 95% who are providing 5% of your contributions will be amongst tomorrow’s 5% who provide the bulk of your contributions. You don’t want to run the risk of alienating or losing them! But how do you find out who are your potential five percenters and get them involved?

In Ask Masters, we use a rule of thumb to help you keep your eyes on the prize. It’s the same tenet that I’ve used to find the opportunities for organizations to help them develop find their greatest opportunities for fundraising. It feels a little counter intuitive, so let’s walk through it together.

You want to dedicate your resources to those activities that will raise the most funds.

So you’ll dedicate the bulk of your time, energy and fundraising budget to raising the 95% of contributions.  That should be pretty easy to get a great return because you’re looking at focusing on 5% of your supporters, right?

Sometimes it’s easier said than done.

Resources to Donors to Funds

There are 4 steps you can use to help you be a super productive fundraiser whether you are building a new fundraising program, managing a wide array of fundraising activities, or figuring out how much time you have to volunteer.

Step 1 ~ Divide your current fundraising activities into two categories – Broad Base and Major Gift.

This works whether you are looking at your own personal fundraising or if you’re looking at a whole organization’s.

Think about which activities are designed to serve, attract, solicit Broad or engage “everyone.” These activities go in the Broad Base column. Examples of Base activities include direct mail, social media, telefunding, events. Look carefully at your activities, because you can absolutely target those same methods that are used to reach a wide audience to a smaller segment. Be sure that you put each activity in the most appropriate column.

Those activities that are more custom tailored to specific donors are the activities that go in your Major Gift column. Examples include proposals, grant applications, personal invitations to exclusive events, face-to-face visits, some special events.

Now you have your current activities separated, take a look at the balance.

  • How much of your attention is on activities that fall in one column or the other?
  • Are there activities that you can reduce or remove from your list because they are duplicating other efforts?
  • Is it time to think about adding a new activity?
  • Which column will it fall in?

Make some adjustments to your activities to emphasize your time and efforts on your top 5% people while maintaining connection with your broad base of supporters.  These are the questions you can use to find the answers that will keep the balance you need.

Step 2 ~ Apply Major Gift techniques to Broad Base activities

Major Gift techniques use tailoring to build relationships with people. When you start to use relationship–building communications you’re moving into Major Gift processes. There are many tools available today to help you make a personalized communication with potential supporters. Be sure to incorporate them into your Broad Base activities as often as possible.

  • What details in your Broad Base activities can be personalized?
  • Can you recruit some volunteers to have a letter-signing party to personalize notes to supporters?
  • Can you create invitations that have an exclusive feeling to them?
  • How can you combine communication activities to create a progression that educates and then involves potential supporters?

The more you focus on personalizing your communications and building a feeling of a personal relationship, the better able you’ll be to find your future 5 percenters and increase the funds from 95 percent of your supporters.

Major gift fundraising is so important today in reaching your goals. That’s why we have five Ask Masters sessions dedicated to all the different aspects of Major gift fundraising techniques.

And we’ve built them so you always know what’s your next step. From finding your top potential supporters to meeting them for the first time to closing and stewarding their life-changing gift, we’ve packed Ask Masters with exercises to help you develop you major gift techniques and forms to keep you on track and moving forward.

Major gift techniques raise the most money. Be sure to get your cause’s share.

Step 3 ~ Get efficient with automation

You’ve heard how robots are able to do the work of millions at a fraction of the cost, right? Well you can use the same principals in fundraising. Examine your Broad Base activities.

  • What functions do you have that you could automate?
  • What resources are tied up in your Broad Base that you could possibly free up with some automation?
  • How can you use those resources in your Major Gift activities columns?

Automation works great with social media efforts, list building, mailings, telephoning, text campaigns.

Step 4 ~ Partition your resources

Now’s the time to get serious about spending your time, energy and money on fundraising activities that produce what you need to achieve your cause’s mission. Let’s face it, the Broad Base activities really can use up all your resources, and burn out your staff and volunteers unless you keep an eye on them. After all, reaching out to and serving 95% of your donor base is not for the faint of heart.

  • On a personal level, set a limit to your time spent in broad base activities. Keep the limit in proportion to the effort so spend the majority of your time (your most valuable resource) on Major Gift activities. Once you have reached your Broad Base limit don’t allow yourself to go over.
  • If you’re managing a fundraising department or a committee divide all the resources, financial, human, and time so that your focus is on developing your Major Gift activities. This can be a little tricky and the secret is to look at your program as a whole.
  • If you have a staff or committee of 20 people, you might have one or two people dedicated to your broad base activities.
  • You might set a certain amount of time each month or during a year to your broad base activities, being sure that your have a good balance of time spent in your Major Gift activities to balance.

To keep your financial resources in perspective you will look at the whole of your program’s expenses and make sure that the larger proportion of your financial resources are dedicated to Major Gift activities. Broad Base activities can be relatively expensive, so keep the context of your entire program in focus. This includes salaries and benefits as well as the hard costs of your fundraising program.

Figuring out which fundraising activities are going to raise the money you need can be tricky. We’ve included two sessions in Ask Masters that help you evaluate and choose those activities that will raise more money and cost you less to do so. You get specific formulas and exercises to help you figure out the return on your fundraising investment of time and money so you’ll always know whether that new event, campaign or fundraising program will raise what you need. Fundraising can feel pretty risky, so we like to help you eliminate the guesswork.

Next time you feel like you are really working hard at fundraising but are getting frustrated by your results use these 4 steps to help you get funky with the flip-flop fundraising inversions and stop spinning your fundraising wheels.


The next thing we’ll be talking about is how to actually get inside your supporters heads! You’ll learn how to quickly and easily find out what your potential donor wants from you that leads to big gifts.

If you’re already on the Ask Masters Fundraising Accelerator list, that article will be coming to your mailbox in a few days. And if not, why not jump on now? It’s free, and our aim is always to give you information that will help you reach your fundraising goals as quickly (and enjoyably) as possible.

Can’t wait to share!

Until next time,

Heidi Hancock


Heidi Hancock, CFRE
Principal of Mosaic Non-Profit Development and creator of Ask Masters Fundraising workshops and webinars

If you found this page but didn’t sign up, why not grab the whole series? Sign up to be sure you get all the parts of the Ask Master’s Fundraising Accelerator!

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