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At a meeting one day, we were chatting to a non-profit about their donor pipeline – a series of stages that seamlessly moves a donor from making their first gift to becoming a lifetime supporter.

By the end, they decided to invest heavily in major gifts. But when we started to talk about ways to fund it, one colleague declared: let’s just cut donor acquisition because it’s hard to get donors anyway!

Let’s stop for a second. If you cut acquisition, where are you going to find major givers in 5 years’ time?

Sure, your entire fundraising program is a pipeline to major gifts. But it will only be successful if all parts are working well.


Step 1 to a healthy donor pipeline:
Fill it up with new donors

Want major givers? Start by acquiring new ones.

Acquisition can happen through many channels. Telemarketing. Direct Mail. Two-step online programs. Face to face. Raffle tickets. Events.

They key is building a strategy that understands your audience. One that’s tailored to different channels through the messaging, tone and content. While not every new donor will end up leaving a bequest to your organisation, you must treat them as though they might.

In other words, make their first experience a good one and they will be more likely to give again.


Step 2 to a healthy donor pipeline:
Retain the donors you already have

Stop donors from falling out of the pipeline by focusing on retention.

Here are some simple yet effective strategies you can use right away that will make a big impact:

  • Start a conversation through surveys, feedback meetings and online forums
  • Make it easy to give with short donation forms, multiple channels and a single ask
  • Invite them to join a donor membership program where they get incentives in exchange for their generosity
  • Share singular case studies that shows donors how their money is making an impact
  • Ask donors to volunteer in order to share interests, build relationships and strengthen bonds.

For an in-depth look at retention, read 6 Donor Retention Strategies That Actually Work and Retention: How To Turn Donors Into Life-Long Friends.


Step 3 to a healthy donor pipeline:
Use your database to move donors up

One of the most effective tools a fundraiser has to communicate with donors is a solid database.

Its greatest benefit is the information it gives you about what your supporters want and need at every stage of their donor journey. You can then use this data, coupled with donor development activities, to move them up the pipeline.

How do you do this?

Start by looking at their giving history and decide the criteria for the upgrade. For example:

  • A donor who has given at least three gifts in the past 24 months may convert to a regular giver.
  • A donor who gave a one-off gift may give again with a warm appeal.
  • A regular giver who has been active for nine to 12 months may get an upgrade call or direct mail pack.

Your donor database should store this information, detailing every single donation and communication. Knowing your donors well will greatly enhance your ability to successfully move them up the pipeline.


Step 4 to a healthy donor pipeline:
Make sure each department works together

Many non-profits have A LOT of different departments. A donor acquisition team. A donor cultivation team. An events team. A major and planned gifts team.

The problem is when these departments fight for ‘their’ donors instead of doing what they’re meant to: nurturing them, caring for them, and then passing them along. If you want a strong major gift program, you must work together. Take care of the entire pipeline, starting with newly acquired donors, and you’ll help them to move up freely.


A healthy, free flowing pipeline that focuses on the donor is absolutely key to a strong major gift program. If you need help stopping the leaks or unclogging bottlenecks, get in touch with us today.