3 Ways to Qualify Major and Legacy Gift Prospects

“Who should I call? Who should I visit? Who should we put into portfolios?” 

For many major and legacy gift fundraisers, these are million (or potentially multi-million) dollar questions. 

“Didn’t Suzanne mention that Stacy was interested in making a major gift? Why don’t you give her a ring?” 

Wealth screening. Analytics. Donor surveys. The range of options you have as a fundraiser to qualify major and legacy gift prospects is expansive and at times, overwhelmingDuring a recent webinar, Blackbaud’s Katherine Swank and I discussed a few of these tools and how to effectively use them in tandem with one another. I wanted to share an overview of our thoughts today. 

Bear in mind that the three topics we touch on below are not the only “arrows in your quiver” for donor qualification. Far from it. There are a lot of different options when it comes to how to qualify supporters. Instead, we’ll focus on three tried and tested ways you can get the most lift right now. 


The best, and most cost-effective way to find qualified major and legacy gift prospects is from referrals. Referrals can come from board members, staff members, volunteers, or even individuals you aren’t in communication with at all. 

The beauty of referrals is that they are incredibly cost-effective, and typically they’re highly qualified. Instead of wealth screening your database to find a dozen wealthy people who might have interest in your organization’s upcoming capital campaign, imagine your board member making a personal, face-to-face introduction between you and one of their peers who has a connection to your mission. 

Which qualification tactic is going to produce the better result? Odds are the referral from the board member. 

Now, referrals are a double-edged sword. Your organization cannot solely rely on them to sustain your major and legacy giving program. One of the major hurdles organizations face in gaining more referrals is the reality that referrals generally happen outside their reach. That is to say, most referrals (and frequently the best referrals) occur not as a result of proactive outreach to a donor, volunteer, or board member, but rather as a result of delighting your donors, volunteers, and board members, to the point that they want to invite their peers and friends to be a part of your mission. 

Scaling this qualification tactic is undoubtedly hard, yet the best way to do it is to provide the best possible experience to each and every individual that engages with your organization. With that in mind, if you focus on engagement fundraising and relationship building, instead of transactional fundraising and “quick wins,” you’ll most certainly engender more referrals. 

Donor Surveys 

Another cost-effective way to identify qualified major and legacy donor prospects is through donor surveys. What better way to learn about your constituents than by asking them? 

Traditionally, donor surveys have been used by nonprofits as a research device. Nonprofits and frequently, their outside consultants, have implemented surveys to learn about positioning statements, trends in donor sentiment, and more. However, the real beauty of donor surveys for planned and major gift prospect qualification come from turning this concept of “research survey” on its head. 

Donor surveys that are designed and developed with qualification in mind take on a very different tone, feel, and cadence than research surveys. Dr. Russell James conducted a lot of research on donor survey questions, and specifically on the words you should and shouldn’t use. 

For example, in a qualification donor survey you should focus on learning more about the following: 

  • What each donor is passionate about; 
  • Why they care about your cause; 
  • What other organizations they support; 
  • Which programs they care most about; 
  • How they prefer to give to your organization; and 
  • Where they are in the consideration process of making a major or legacy gift. 

When you capture this information, you begin to develop a more complete profile of each and every donor. To identify qualified major and legacy giving prospects, you’ll simply segment respondents based on their consideration stage and level of commitment to your organization. 

Those that show the most immediate interest in making a major or legacy gift are your most qualified prospects, while those that show deferred or no interest should be cultivated and re-surveyed in the future. 

Predictive Analytics 

Data-driven decision making is all the rage, and it should be. Human beings inherently have biases, so relying on the right data to help steer us in the right direction can be incredibly powerful and beneficial. 

Predictive analytics can help to qualify major and legacy donor prospects. Just because someone hasn’t made a major gift to your organization, or disclosed a planned gift, doesn’t mean they aren’t capable or inclined to do so. 

Sure, if we could get a referral to talk to Jane Doe that would be ideal, and yes, after that, it would be fantastic to get Jane Doe to respond to one of our major and legacy giving qualification surveys. However, if she doesn’t respond, we still have viable qualification options. Predictive analytics allow you to “predict” the likelihood that Jane Doe will be a major or legacy donor based off of available data points. 

For example, has Jane Doe given a major gift to another, similarly missioned organization in your area? Is she widowed and with an advanced degree? Answers to questions like these, and algorithms and models that can interpret this (and hundreds of other data points), can assist you in identifying your most qualified major and legacy donor prospects. 

Building a predictive model isn’t easy, and thankfully a lot of firms exist to help do exactly that. When it comes to qualifying major and legacy donor prospects, predictive analytics are a viable option, and one that you can certainly invest in if you have the budget. 

How to apply this at your nonprofit 

So, where should you invest your time to get the most qualification lift? If you can engender more referrals, go for it. Once you’ve tapped out that potential, I’d highly recommend looking at a hybrid strategy with donor surveys and predictive analytics. 

Why? Because donor surveys provide you with verbatims (the words straight from a donors mouth), and predictive analytics compliment that with quantitative data that helps ensure a prospect has capacity to justify your time. The combination of the two is very powerful and effective.